Wednesday, November 23, 2011



Gratitude is a fine thing, and in honor of the one holiday that focuses on gratitude, let’s dip our toes into the etymology of the word thanks. It came to Old English through a heap of loosely related languages including Old Saxon, German, Old Norse, Danish, and Old Frisian. We can still see the relationship with the modern German word danke.

All these terms shared the simple meaning, “to thank.” What I find fascinating is that the Proto-Indo-European grandmother of all these gratitude-expressing words instead meant “to think or to feel.” This might suggest that one must be thinkful in order to be thankful. The flipside being that thinklessness causes thanklessness.

This post is intentionally brief, as I’m hoping you’ll take some time to indulge yourself in thinkfulness and thankfulness. If you are inspired to express gratitude in the comments section, feel free.

My thanks go out to those who read this and to this week’s sources,, the OED, &

Thursday, November 17, 2011



So often we authors are perceived as dreamers. A look into etymology, though, finds that we artsy writerly types aren’t the only ones who take an occasional snooze. So do words.

When it comes to the word dream, some form of the meaning we know today existed in most the languages that led into Old English, but the written record of Old English only employs a meaning of the word dream that we don’t acknowledge at all today: make a joyful noise. The written record suggests that the modern meaning of dream took a several-century snooze.

The word Dream occurs with both meanings in Middle English, which suggests that both meanings were present in Old English, but one of them somehow avoided the printed page till the darn-close-to-contemporary year of 1179.

Along the way, there are some great tweaky meanings for dream & its cognates, which include but aren’t limited to:

-joy, pleasure, gladness, mirth, rejoicing
-a cherished desire
-deception, illusion, phantasm
-a train of thoughts, images or fancies passing through the mind during sleep
-a fancy voluntarily indulged in while awake
-a state of abstraction or trance
-a wild fancy or hope
-a reverie

And those are only the nouns. Dream’s verb forms deserve an entry of their own.

Naturally, there are steaming heaps of quotes having to do with dreams, dreamers & dreaming. I like the dreamlike nature of this one from Carl Jung:

“Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

So, fellow writers & artsy types, are your works manifestations of your dreams, or the other way around? Do any of the alternate meanings above appeal?

Thanks to this week’s sources,, the OED, & &

Thursday, November 10, 2011



The OED offers one full page on the word compose and over two pages on its forms (composition, composed, composer, composedness…).

Surprisingly, the word compose was used to refer to putting words on paper as early as the 1480s, yet wasn’t applied to writing music until the 1590s.

Compose comes to English from Latin through French. It’s made up of com- which means together & -posere, which means to place or put down. This basic idea makes lots of sense. What I find most intriguing are the varied meanings of compose over the years. I love how they tweak my thinking about what it is to compose.

Here are a few from a very long list:
-       to invent & put into proper form
-       to arrange artistically
-       to tranquilize
-       to form words and blocks of words (to set type)
-       to compound or to mix
-       to settle, adjust or arrange
-       to make seemly & orderly
-       to lay out a dead body

Modern mystery writers take that last definition so seriously, they try to “lay out a dead body” in the first chapter of every novel. John Irving, Robertson Davies and their devotees really take the “to compound or to mix” definition seriously, getting some of their joy from weaving unlikely themes and topics and together. There are days when any of us feel as though all we’re doing is forming “words and blocks of words” which we pray will have some value the following day.

On a more twisted note, a quick visit to Brendan's On-Line Anagram Generator produces six anagrams for compose, my favorite three being:
-       cop some
-       spec moo
-       scoop me

And what kind of light does that throw on the subject?

So dear and steadfast followers, which shades of meanings appeal to you and your composing process?