Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fiction & Breadmaking

 Fiction & Breadmaking

At first, the etymology of the word fiction doesn’t seem to hold any surprises. The word showed up in English in the 1300s meaning something invented. It came from the French word ficcion, which meant ruse, invention or dissimulation. Ficcion came from the Latin word fictio, a fashioning or feigning.

Nothing particularly unexpected there.

But wait. The Latin word fictio’s source is the Latin verb, fingere,
to devise, form or shape,

& it comes from a Proto-Indo-European verb meaning

to knead
to build,
to form;
all the things one might do with dough.

In fact, through a long series of side-by-side mutations, the word fiction and the word dough come from the same root (as do the words lady & paradise).

It’s the rare writer who’s rolling in the dough (that meaning kicked in about 1851), but the literal side of the breadmaking connection offers some intriguing ways to think about writing fiction:

Bread baking involves simple, everyday ingredients, mixed into something new.

Without leavening, it’s not bread.

It needs to be proofed.

It needs a bunch of manhandling.

It has to rest between stages.

It’s best when shared with others.

Dear followers, what connections have I missed?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,, take our word, & the OED.

Thursday, January 19, 2012



In celebration of National Hugging Day (who knew?), January 21, here are some thoughts on the word hug.

The verb hug first showed up in written English in 1560 – four years before Shakespeare’s birth – as hugge. Etymologists aren’t 100% certain where it came from, but some possibilities include:

Old Norsehugga – to comfort (from hugr which interestingly meant courage)
Germanhegento foster or cherish (from a term meaning to enclose with a hedge)
Proto-Germanichugjanto think or consider
Gothichugs (adj) – of the mind, soul, or thought

Hug didn’t venture into its identity as a noun until 1610, when it applied to a hold in the sport of wrestling. By 1650, wrestlers shared it with the rest of the English-speaking world & hug came to mean an affectionate embrace.

Translations of the word hug are also somewhat intriguing. The English word embrace is evident in the Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, & Romanian words for hug: abrazo, abraccio, abraço &
îmbrăţişare. In French the word is étreinte, in Finnish, hali, & in German, umarmung. In Samoan the word is opoopo. In Swedish & Danish, it’s kram

Here’s a hope that National Hugging Day gets appropriately celebrated, even by those who don’t even know it exists (or those who are instead celebrating National Squirrel Day, which is another post entirely). Dear followers, spread around some heartfelt umarmungs, opoopos and krams. Mid-hug, focus on comforting, considering, & cherishing. Afterward, keep that consideration in your mind, soul, & thought.

Any comments about hugs, their grandmother words or their distant cousins from other languages? Please leave them in the comment section.

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, the OED, & GB Milner’s Samoan Dictionary, published jointly but the governments of Western & American Samoa, 1966.

Thursday, January 12, 2012



Twenty other writers and I had the good fortune of attending a novel revision retreat this weekend at the Santa Barbara Mission. It was organized by the highly organized Alexis O’Neill of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators).

At such events, I generally hope to find a mentor, or wise & trusted teacher, & this time I found a doozy. This retreat’s fiction mentor was Kathi Appelt, author of many fine books, among them The Underneath & Keeper. Her focus, attentiveness, and insight threw amazing light on our projects, whether picture books, early readers, middle grade or YA novels. 

The Greek name, Mentor first appeared in Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor was the name of a friend and advisor who just happened to be the goddess Athena in disguise. There’s nothing like advice from a deity. It’s likely that Homer based his character’s name on the Greek word mentos, which meant intent, purpose, spirit or passion. Mentos traces its roots back to Proto-Indo-European & Sanskrit, & was used to mean one who thinks & one who admonishes.

Admonishment just wasn’t this particular mentor’s cup of tea, but many of the other historic meanings apply perfectly to Kathi Appelt. Thoughtfulness, intent, purpose, spirit, & passion all figure highly. At times her insight seemed inspired, so it might even be fair to argue the goddess connection. Kathi Appelt is a class act who knows her stuff. Writerly friends, jump on any chance you have to work with her.

Good followers, what qualities do you look for in a mentor? What mentors have helped you along your path & what qualities do you most appreciate in them? 

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.

Thursday, January 5, 2012



What better time of year to ponder beginnings?

The verb begin comes to modern English through Old English from Dutch, Old High German, & Old Frisian. Its various meanings over the years have included:

to undertake
to attempt
to cut open
to open up

The verb start comes from the same source languages, and over the years has included these shades of meaning:

to stare
to fall
to tumble, hurl, throw or plunge
to rush
to move or spring suddenly
to move, leave, or depart

The verb and adjective open also came to modern English through Old English from Germanic and Scandinavian sources. Its grandmother words have included these meanings:

an act of opening
not closed down
uncovered, bare, plain or evident
raised up
to cease to be secretive
candid, liberal, generous

How should all these historic shades of meaning affect our thinking in terms of launching into a new year? In terms of beginning a novel?

I certainly have tumbled my way into a story, & I love the idea that a story somehow involves the author’s decision to cease being secretive.

How about you?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources,,, & the OED.