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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Prevent English Language Abuses, But Love Wordplay


There’s English, and then there’s English. 

No, I am not referring to British English vs. American English, nor am I referring to different American regional dialects, though someone from Alabama conversing with a New Yorker could have a difficult time.  No, I’m just talking about the American English language and the many challenges posed to using it properly.

It’s under threat by all kinds of things and entities including:
·         Ebonics
·         Spanglish
·         Emojis
·         Slang
·         Dumbed-down education system
·         Poorly edited Internet communications
·         Social media’s introduction of new terms and phrases

America is a melting pot of ethnicities, nationalities, religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, and economic classes, and the language of the nation also reflects a melting pot of ideas and influences.  As the world is undergoing change, even under its fast-paced siege, language must revolve with it, to reflect these many revisions, expansions, and alterations to how we communicate with each other.

What are we to use to guide us through the maze?  

Luckily, there are many books about books and the nuances, quirks, and laws of the language.  One excellent handbook is The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need:  One-Step Source for Every Writing Assignment by Susan Thurman.

It covers things like:
·         Punctuation and style
·         Parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, prepositions, etc.
·         Irregular verbs, verb tenses, indefinite pronouns
·         Basic sentence structure such as subjects and predicates, phrases, clauses, etc.
·         How to write better sentences
·         Avoiding common errors in word choice, spelling, misuse of clichés, eliminating repetition, dumping double negatives, etc.
·         How to write for a variety of formats from the five-paragraph essay and the abstract to a research paper and critical analysis.

It wisely notes on page 2 that: “Every rule will have an exception (and probably more than one).”

The book listed 1001 most frequently misspelled words – including the word “misspelled “-- from abdicate to zucchini.

There’s so much to get right when using English.  There’s grammar and punctuation, spelling, proper word selection, run-on sentences, capitalization, tense usage, and writing logically and with impact.  The book noted people commonly confused words, such as:

·         Adapt, adopt
·         Accept, except
·         Aid, aide
·         Complement, compliment
·         Good, well
·         Foreword, forward
·         Use to, used to
·         Whose, who’s
·         Your, you’re

The language has so many little things that could pose minefields to young readers.  Contractions, compound words, and homonyms can challenge some.  So can colloquialisms, sentence fragments, non sequiturs, and dangling modifiers.  Just a comma, hyphen, or parenthesis in the right place can make all the difference between understanding, misunderstanding, and not understanding the intent of a statement.  Don’t forget tense consistency, your gerunds, past participles, and split infinitives.  All of this might make you want to brush up on conjunctions and subordinate clauses!

As helpful as books like the Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need or Shrunk & White’s Elements of Style, a fun book to own is Tyrannosaurus Lex:  The Marvelous Book of Palindromes, Anagrams and Other Delightful and Outrageous Word Play by Rod L. Evans, Ph.D.

It’s a book of verbal wit.  Evans goes beyond the traditional definition of wordplay, which involves the manipulating of or calling attention to letters, sounds, and meanings.  He doesn’t just dazzle us with anagrams (rearrange the letters of Albert Einstein and you get ten elite brains) or palindromes (where sentences read the same forward and backward, i.e. Do geese see God/or Dennis and Edna sinned).

Evans suggests we read other books on word play, including Anguished English by Richard Lederer, which features real-life linguistic bloopers.  He also suggests consulting the hundreds of forms of wordplay in Dave Maurice’s work, The Dictionary of Wordplay.

He says the person who deserves credit for helping us put wordplay on a scientific footing is Dimitri Bergmann, who penned Language on Vacation:  An Olio of Orthographical Oddities in 1965.  He said it was “An excellent work on palindromes, anagrams, and many other forms of visual word play involving recognizing and manipulating patterns of letters, it presented wordplay in a scientific light, as a discipline with its own logic, concepts, and vocabulary.  Bergmann’s groundbreaking book earned him the title “Father of Logology,” popularizing a term for recreational logistics.”

His collection of word play and linguistic wit overwhelmed me the first time I took a stab at it.  I was taken aback by how thorough, well-presented, and humorous his critique on English was. It is packaged so well.

Here’s a small example of the things he collected:

literordinyms
Words with three or more letters written in consecutive alphabetical order.
i.e.DEFine or HIJack or STUpid

contronyms
Words that have opposite meanings when they have multiple meanings.

i.e. bolt
To secure – I bolted the door before I went to sleep
To depart – the boy bolted out of the room.

heteronyms
Words with identical spellings but different meanings and pronunciations.

i.e. – close means near and also to shut
when you’re close to the door, please close it.

i.e. – minute means 60 seconds and tiny.
I had only a minute to going to minute detail.

kangaroo words
Larger words carrying smaller synonyms.
Kangaroo words contain smaller words related in meaning to the larger parent word.  The smaller word is spelled with successive but not completely consecutive letters.

pleonasms
redundancy, such as:
absolutely essential
advanced warning
empty hole
tiny speck
revert back

eudonyms
Where a person’s name represents their strongest attribute

Russell Brain, neurologist
Chip Beck, pro golfer
Marc Rich, billionaire
Bob Rock, rock music producer
John Wisdom, British philosopher

He had this wonderful list of words where a letter is heard, but not seen, such as:

Beau=o
Cue=q
Passed=t
Gypsy= j
Seal=c
Colonel=r

Then he showed how every letter can appear in at least one word where that letter is silent, such as:

a=bread
b=debt
e=tape
h=ghost
i=thief
s=aisle
z=rendezvous

It would take me hours to convey the beautiful linguistic conundrums that he presents the reader.  He codifies many of the linguistic oddities that make English the best language ever created. But I will conclude with an excerpt from his introduction:

“Word play is a natural part of a language and is associated with riddles, puzzles, games, puns; jokes, double entendres, and even linguistic confusion (as in malapropisms).  It involves viewing or treating language as an art form, as a source of entertainment.  We can find it almost everywhere, including homes schools, offices, businesses, and even public restrooms (graffiti).   The advertisement and bumper sticker “I ♥NY” is based on a rebus, a message involving words and pictures.  A radiator repair business whose slogan is “Best place in town to take a leak” is also using wordplay – the pun."

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Why We Need More Games With Words & Books



There are a number of games that revolve around words.  Scrabble is the gold standard.  The online version, words with friends, is popular.  Bananagrams, crosswords, word searches, and Word Candy online are big, too.  Add in Scattergories, MAD Libs, Boggle, Hangman, Balderdash and word jumbles and you see a good trend here.  Many games involve the use and focus of words.

Of course many games involve chance and live by the luck of a card drawn or dice rolled.  Others incorporate strategy – Monopoly, chess, checkers, Pictionary, or Connect Four.  Many games are online or they are video games.  We can entertain ourselves in any number of ways but nothing compares to engaging in a war of words and using quick-thinking, creativity, and strategy to turn random letters into a winning word score.

Making words, spelling, or some reference to letters into a game is an important trend.  We need to focus on language and stimulate our brains appropriately.  Sure we may like games that involve competition or call upon skills that involve math, a poker face, smart trading, or manipulating one’s environment, but games that lean on language are big winners.  They engage us, challenge us, and awaken our creativity.

Language is really the key building block for civilization.  The more of us that can master it, the more we can have a world driven by intellect, not bombs; by ideas, not status quo; and by communication and not mere physical interactions.

Other games I would love to see include these:  

·         Booktionary – try to draw relevant scenes or characters relating to famous books.
·         Book Trivial Pursuit – trivia pertaining to books and authors of social note.
·         Bookopoloy – a board game about running a successful book publishing company where the publisher buys up manuscripts in a smart way.
·         Who Am I? Learn about authors and then guess who they are, based on the clues shared
·         Be The Editor – earn points for catching errors in a portion of a manuscript.
·         Write That Title – players get a handful of words and instructions about a book’s genre and plot and you need to come up with as many relevant book titles within 60 seconds as possible.
·         Book Trading Cards – collect, trade, and share cards like you would for sports or movies, but these cards revolve around books, words, famous lines, and major authors
·         Are You A Poet?  - you are given a handful of words and have a limited amount of time to craft certain types of poems, from rhyming to free verse.

Language will never go out of style – and it will always be vital to society’s growth.  The more games that we can create for our youth and others that encourage reading, improving our vocabulary and thinking creatively, the better.

Will Hasbro be looking to launch a new game that promotes words, books, or publishing?  I hope so.  Hey Hasbro, glad to serve as a consultant!

“It is with the reading of books the same as with looking at pictures; one must, without doubt, without hesitations, with assurance, admire what is beautiful.”
--Vincent van Gogh

“The one best sufficient reason for a man to buy a book is because he thinks he will be happier with it than without it.”
--A. Edward Newton, The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections (1918)

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Celebrate March Is Reading Awareness Month



March is Reading Awareness Month.  It sounds great, on the one hand, that a whole month is dedicated to turning people onto reading.  Yet, on the other hand, it sounds, pathetic that we need to call special attention to what should naturally be taking place everywhere, for everyone. However, our nation still has unmet challenges when it comes to reading.

ReadAloud.org shares some sobering statistics:


  1. Some children begin kindergarten having been read to as few as 25 hours while their peers may have been read to as many as 1,000 hours.
  2. If a child is not reading at grade level by the end of the first grade, then there is an 88% probability the child will not be reading at grade level by the end of the fourth grade.

The site encourages every child and parent to read aloud for 15 minutes a day.

National Education Association (NEA) celebrates Read Across America Day on March 2, the birthday of the beloved children’s book author Dr. Seuss.  The NEA says:  “Motivating children to read is an important factor in student achievement and creating lifelong successful readers.  Research has shown that children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.”

According to a 2013 study conducted by the U.S. Dept. of Education and the National Institute of Literacy, 32 million adults – or 14% of the adult American population read below a 5th grade level and 19% of high school graduates can’t read.

No doubt there are many reasons why we have tens of millions of reading-deficient adults, so what can be done about it?  What can be done to prevent others from growing up illiterate?

For those of us who are literate, we have the obligation to contribute to the teaching of others.  If you don’t have time to dedicate to help others read, support them with donations, books, encouragement, and other resources or rewards.  You can be the difference in someone’s life.

For those who can read or are learning to read, it’s important we teach them about the following:

1.      Comprehension
2.      Genre variety
3.      Length variance
4.      Speed
5.      The art of skimming
6.      Retention
7.      Applying what was read
8.      How to choose what to read
9.      How to question and double-source our readings
10.  Becoming better writers by reading

RIF.org (Reading Is Fundamental) states “There is a significant literary crisis in America today.” It says 43% of American adults are functionally illiterate and that “93 million adults in the U.S. read at or below the basic level needed to contribute successfully in society.” 

They also say: “There are currently 16 million children living in poverty in the United States, two-thirds who don’t have a book to call their own.  Since 1966, RIF has distributed more than 412 million books to more than 40 million children across the country, improving their ability to read, learn and grow.”

RIF notes: "Helping someone develop a passion for reading is as important as providing them with the mechanical tools to become independent functional readers."  

New readers should want to read and enjoy the many rewards it can bring Let's all celebrte by sharing the gift of reading..

“When a writer dies, he becomes his books” 
--Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (1962)

“You can’t tell a book by its movie.”
--Louis A. Safian, The Book of Updated Proverbs (1967)

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blo

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Spring Training For Writers



I just got back from a wonderful excursion to South Florida, a welcoming respite from the New York winter.  Aside from trading up about 45º worth of temperature.  I was given an opportunity to see the dawning of this year’s spring training for Major League Baseball.

While staying at my in-laws' vacation house in Boynton Beach, I read in the Palm Beach Post that a brand new stadium was opening about 30 minutes from us, in northern Palm Beach County, not far from the local airport.  This sounded like a great opportunity to go see baseball in February.

I went with my two kids and father-in-law to witness the first public use of the facility.  The complex which houses both the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals, is a 150-million-dollar baseball haven.  The main stadium was still under construction when we went, which was six days before the first game was to be played there (Ballpark at the Palm Beaches).

It occurred to me, while I absorbed baseball activity for the first time since the Chicago Cubs made history in winning their first World Series in over a century, that writers would benefit from a “spring training.”

Of course, there are many differences between the worlds of baseball and authoring books, mainly that sports are physical and writing is mental, that sports favors a certain size and shape but writing requires curiosity and intelligence, and baseball players get paid a lot more than most writers compete to be the best in their chosen field, and even when success seems reachable it can elude both the baseball player and the writer.  Both athletes and writers put their work out there for public critique.

But many key differences exist that can’t bring any comparison to the table.  The athlete’s career is short-- at best he gets to play to around age 40-but due to injury and competition, he will conclude his career at a much younger age.  Writers can start when they are fairly young and continue until the day they die, even hacking away past the age of 100.  The cerebral art of writing has it challenges, but the body can’t rob writers the way it can athletes, save for Alzheimer's or arthritis.

For baseball players, there is an off-season.  Even if you are fortunate to play out the longest season – win the World Series in seven games – you end play around November 1.  Spring training doesn’t begin until at least 3 ½ months later.  Who else takes off 100 straight days from their job?  Not even school teachers get a continuous break that long.

The break allows them time to heal physically and mentally.  It’s a time for rest and renewal.  They may still do some light exercise workouts and stick to some kind of diet, but they no longer have to report to work or give deep thought or commitment to anything.

Writers don’t get a scheduled break like that.  Sure, there are times when they are on a deadline for a book or writing assignment.  Other times they are on self-imposed deadlines, pushing themselves to excel.  But writers don’t have clear seasons or start and end dates.  Year-round, writers are always writing, even when they’re not.  They need a relief from the mental burden of creating.

If writers had the equivalent of a spring training they could relax their brain muscle and give themselves a change of scenery.  Then they can come back with a fresh, new focus and inspired approach.  Sometimes to produce more, one must stop and take a break.

My father-in-law was struck at the site of watching millionaire professionals still practicing Little League-type drills of covering first base on bunts, looking to pick off a runner at second, or a catcher throwing down to third base.  He figured they knew all of this and had little need to practice it.  But he realized that in order to be the best, you have to improve by micro measurements on the performance of the most basic task that we take for granted.

The baseball player has several coaches, a manager, special instructors, and a physical trainer.  The writer is often left alone to his own devices, unless he seeks out a writer’s retreat or the advice of a trusted source, like a literary agent or book editor.

Baseball players are part of a team and each player’s overall success depends on his teammates’ performances.  The writer depends on no one else, always the loner.

One can go on and on looking at the differences and similarities between the baseball player and the writer.  They have a symbiotic relationship, as some writers love to write about baseball and their work is intricately woven into the fabric of the sport.  But one thing is clear to me – writers need their sabbatical, their spring training, so they can go away and then return invigorated, enlivened, and hungry.  They need to be told something has ended and that something new, shall soon begin, that a break from the very thing they love and are great at doing will make them even more passionate and productive.

As a fan, though I want to see baseball played year-round, I recognize the break is the perfect way to refuel for a new season and a fresh start.  We can all benefit from spring training.  Now play ball!

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blo