Word Wednesday – Is this the most powerful word in the English language?

In these early days of 2020, let’s have a Word Wednesday feature.

A recent fascinating BBC Culture article focuses on the word “the.” Yes, that little three-letter word, meaningless in itself but packing a powerful punch, even a “wow” factor at times.

What makes “the” so special and powerful? Read on, but start with these paragraphs:

But although ‘the’ has no meaning in itself, “it seems to be able to do things in subtle and miraculous ways,” says Michael Rosen, poet and author. Consider the difference between ‘he scored a goal’ and ‘he scored the goal’. The inclusion of ‘the’ immediately signals something important about that goal. Perhaps it was the only one of the match? Or maybe it was the clincher that won the league? Context very often determines sense.

There are many exceptions regarding the use of the definite article, for example in relation to proper nouns. We wouldn’t expect someone to say ‘the Jonathan’ but it’s not incorrect to say ‘you’re not the Jonathan I thought you were’. And a football commentator might deliberately create a generic vibe by saying, ‘you’ve got the Lampards in midfield’ to mean players like Lampard.

The use of ‘the’ could have increased as trade and manufacture grew in the run-up to the industrial revolution, when we needed to be referential about things and processes. ‘The’ helped distinguish clearly and could act as a quantifier, for example, ‘the slab of butter’.

This could lead to a belief that ‘the’ is a workhorse of English; functional but boring. Yet Rosen rejects that view. While primary school children are taught to use ‘wow’ words, choosing ‘exclaimed’ rather than ‘said’, he doesn’t think any word has more or less ‘wow’ factor than any other; it all depends on how it’s used. “Power in language comes from context… ‘the’ can be a wow word,” he says.

This simplest of words can be used for dramatic effect. At the start of Hamlet, a guard’s utterance of ‘Long live the King’ is soon followed by the apparition of the ghost: ‘Looks it not like the King?’ Who, the audience wonders, does ‘the’ refer to? The living King or a dead King? This kind of ambiguity is the kind of ‘hook’ that writers use to make us quizzical, a bit uneasy even. “‘The’ is doing a lot of work here,” says Rosen.

For the rest of the story, visit the link below. Remember, every word counts – definite articles too!

Source: BBC – Culture – Is this the most powerful word in the English language?

Michigan History, PRC Archives, and Maple Syrup *(Tree-tap Update!)


This morning I attended a special seminar on “Archives 101” at the headquarters of the Historical Society of Michigan (HSM) in our state capital of Lansing (in the Meijer Education Center). Having recently become a member of the society, I not only receive the Michigan History Magazine and other benefits, but also access to special seminars and workshops relating to our state’s history and archives. And lest we forget, much of that history includes her Christian churches, ministries, and missions, several of which were represented at this seminar.

Official Seal - BLUE-HSMich

Today’s seminar was a basic but profitable survey of how to do archiving. Being new to the position of archivist for our denomination, I want to learn from those who are experienced in the field. Not only was the presentation instructive (with many helpful handouts), but so also was the networking with the people in attendance.  As each of us introduced himself or herself and described our roles, I was struck by the fact that many of us are in the same positions and circumstances: serving in dual roles (librarian-archivist, or curator-archivist, or church secretary-historian) in small settings (small-town museums, collections, libraries) and facing quite similar needs (limited budgets, helpers, and space)! But that’s what makes it such a benefit to talk to one another about the what, how, and why of archiving. I was glad I took the time to go to this seminar.

Michigan-History-coverAnd I will take this opportunity to encourage our teachers and Christian schools in Michigan to take advantage of the manifold resources of the HSM, including the magazine and many history workshops and tours. The Society has a section on the website just for teachers and the MH Magazine also has a special children’s edition.

Speaking of Michigan history, did you that the famous Mackinac Island used to be one of our National Parks – the second one, in fact?



And that leads into another great Michigan past time – making maple syrup. While more common in the northern portion of the state, it can be done wherever there are good maples trees – including on the PRC Seminary property. That’s right, this week (yesterday), one of our pre-seminary students, Doner Bartolon and his son Ian, tapped into some of our maple trees so as to experience firsthand the fine art of maple-syrup making.


So I took them around and we picked out some good hard maples; then Ian and his dad did the drilling and I helped Ian with the tapping; soon the sap started to flow into the jugs they made! With warmer weather in the forecast, it is a good time to start the process. We’ll see how the syrup turns out!

Jake Green | MLive.com

MLive carried a story about Michigan’s maple-syrup industry this Wednesday (March 6). Check out that fascinating report here.

*UPDATE! I checked the trees today and guess what?! The jugs are filling and some are full! Check out these two on tree #1:




And, finally, we should give you a little update on the new archive addition going out the back of the library. As you can see, not much more had been done in the last few weeks, thanks to the frigid temps and snow-laden clouds in our neck of the woods.


But, there’s hope. Today was sunny and the temp finally climbed above freezing. Ice was melting and snow receding. Word is that Bosveld plans to return next week and finish enclosing the structure so that work can begin inside. That is good news!


Grammar Check! “I” vs. “Me”

Today’s GrammarBook.com email (June 21, 2017) about writing and proper use of English grammar focuses on the right use of the personal pronouns “I” and “me”, though it includes other pronouns too.

Since this is always a sticking point with writers – and especially speakers (we get even lazier when we speak)! – we should work on getting this right, both in our writing and in our speaking.

I remember my dear mother correcting me over and over on this as a child, until it was drilled into my stubborn Dutch noggin. Today I thank her for those daily grammar lessons. I believe they finally sunk in. Check my grammar in the previous sentences. 🙂

If you visit the blog post on this at the end of this post, you can even take a pop quiz to check yourself.

Source: I vs. Me – Grammar & Punctuation | The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Word Wednesday: “Nostalgia”, or “journey pain”

UnfortunateEnglishFor our “Word Wednesday” feature this week we turn once more to Bill Brohaugh’s Unfortunate English: The Gloomy Truth Behind the Word You Use (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006). And as we keep moving through this book, we will take one more selection from the section “Exhuming the Body” (cf. our previous choice here), i.e., words that all have their origin in body parts, fluids, functions, etc.

In this section I also found the word “nostalgia” to have a rather interesting background.

There is no nostalgia for the original meaning of nostalgia. No longing for nostalgic times, no fond memories of nostalgic people.

Because, you see, nostalgia was considered a medical condition. An affliction. A severe reaction to being in unfamiliar surroundings – homesickness in the literal sense. And indeed, when you break the word into its component parts, you find homesickness.

The ‘-algia’ comes to the word through the same medical construction as ‘neuralgia’ (-algia indicating pain). And Greek nostos means ‘journey to or arrival at home’. Nostalgia in this sense was in use in English by the mid-1700s, borrowed likely from a 1688 medical treatise by Swiss physician Johannes Hofer, Dissertatio Medica de Nostalgia, oder Heimwehe (Medical Dissertation on Nostalgia, or Homesickness).

The treatise is written in Latin, though Heimwehe is German for ‘home-pain.’ Sea-farers and soldiers far from home suffered the disease, characterized by such symptoms as despondency, melancholia, palpitations, and emaciation.

The word was shedding its medical sense in the 1800s (though the concept was still being discussed in medical journals in the 1860s, related to Civil War afflictions). By 1900, we were using the figurative sense of fond memories, or of longing or pining.

New Thrift Store Books: A Famous Cat – and Even More Famous Cubs

deweydookIn the last few months I have picked up a few more Thrift store treats and treasures – personal books, that is – besides those I always find for the Seminary library and for the professors and students to purchase at a bargain. Today I will feature two of them.

The first is the story of a famous cat who lived in the library of Spencer, Iowa for 19 years. His name: Dewey Readmore Books. No, I am NOT kidding! Isn’t that a great name? And the story is even better, as told by the library director, Vicki Myron, who found him in the return bin of the Spencer Public Library one bitter cold Iowa winter morning. This is a story that will warm your hearts – for many reasons. It is a great Midwestern tale, true as the Iowa corn is tall. The copy I found is even signed by the author and Dewey. That’s what the signature says 🙂 O, the title of the book is Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World (Grand Central, 2008). Here is the last part of Vicki’s introduction (“Welcome to Iowa”), which sets the stage for the rest of the story:

Around the corner from Sister’s Cafe, across a small parking lot and just a half a block off Grand Avenue, is a low gray concrete building: the Spencer Public Library. My name is Vicki Myron, and I’ve been working in that library for twenty-five years, the last twenty as director. I’ve overseen the arrival of the first computer and the addition of the reading room. I’ve watched children grow up and leave, only to walk back through the doors ten years later with their own children. The Spencer Public Library may not look like much, at least not at first, but it is the centerpiece, the middle ground, the heart of this heartland story. Everything I’m going to tell you abouut Spencer – and about the surrounding farms, the nearby lakes, the Catholic church in Hartley, the Moneta School, the box factory, and the wonderful old white Ferris wheel up at Arnold’s Park – all flows back eventually to this small gray building and to the cat who lived here for more than nineteen years.

How much of an impact can an animal have? How many lives can one cat touch? How is it possible for an abandoned kitten to transform a small library into a meeting place and tourist attraction, inspire a classic American town, bind together an entire region, and eventually become famous around the world? You can’t even begin to answer those questions until you hear the story of Dewey Readmore Books, the beloved library cat of Spencer, Iowa (pp.4-5).

By the way, Dewey Readmore Books even has his own website. Check it out 🙂

LoveofCubsThe second book is a classic alphabet book – on the Chicago Cubs! Yes, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I went shopping at Gary Vander Schaaf’s downtown Grand Rapids store (Credo Books) for some theological books a few weeks ago. As I looked straight on at some Greek and Hebrew language books, there on an endcap staring at me, beckoning me, was For the Love of the Cubs: An A-Z Primer for Cubs Fans of All Ages (Frederick C.Klein; Illistrated by Mark Anderson, with forewords by Ernie Banks and Chip Caray; Triumph Books, 2003). What a fun book! The illustrations (cartoon-like) are hilarious, and the stories of famous Cubs are great!

But of course, I have begun to read it to my grandchildren! They need to learn the alphabet – and about the most lovable baseball team in America – the Cubs! Here’s “Mr. Cubs”, Ernie Banks’, foreword:

Every sports team has a history, but few can boast one as illustrious as that of my team, the Chicaho Cubs. Organized way back in the 1870s, they’ve represneted the same city in the major leagues longer than any other club. And while they haven’t won a pennant for a while, they won plenty of them in the old days – and they’ve had great players all along. The spirit and fan loyalty of the Cubs makes them the favorites of many people, a lot of whom don’t live in Chicago. I hope that reading this book will help both kids and adults understand what makes the team special.

Indeed! Maybe you can find this treasure too. Have a great Friday! And happy reading, whatever you find!

The 1931 Histomap: The entire history of the world distilled into a single map/chart.

The 1931 Histomap: The entire history of the world distilled into a single map/chart..

And, while we are on maps today, how about this “Histomap” – a mapped timeline of all of human history. This is actually an old map (first published by Rand-McNally in 1931), but Slate has brought it back to life via the Internet. Have fun with this one! Here’s the introduction to it; the link above will take you to the site where you can view this unique map.

This “Histomap,” created by John B. Sparks, was first printed by Rand McNally in 1931. (The David Rumsey Map Collection hosts a fully zoomable version here.) (Update: Click on the image below to arrive at a bigger version.)

This giant, ambitious chart fit neatly with a trend in nonfiction book publishing of the 1920s and 1930s: the “outline,” in which large subjects (the history of the world! every school of philosophy! all of modern physics!) were distilled into a form comprehensible to the most uneducated layman.

The 5-foot-long Histomap was sold for $1 and folded into a green cover, which featured endorsements from historians and reviewers. The chart was advertised as “clear, vivid, and shorn of elaboration,” while at the same time capable of “holding you enthralled” by presenting:

the actual picture of the march of civilization, from the mud huts of the ancients thru the monarchistic glamour of the middle ages to the living panorama of life in present day America.

The chart emphasizes domination, using color to show how the power of various “peoples” (a quasi-racial understanding of the nature of human groups, quite popular at the time) evolved throughout history.

40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World

40 Maps That Will Help You Make Sense of the World «TwistedSifter.

usa-map-02Just yesterday I was given notice of this interesting map collecting blog post, and it contains quite a diverse group of facts and figures for those who want to be in the know. There are some maps here that you should ignore (be advised), but most of these contain useful information. Others are just plain fun, so we include this in our first “Friday Fun” post today. Enjoy!

Here is the author’s brief introduction:

If you’re a visual learner like myself, then you know maps, charts and infographics can really help bring data and information to life. Maps can make a point resonate with readers and this collection aims to do just that.

Hopefully some of these maps will surprise you and you’ll learn something new. A few are important to know, some interpret and display data in a beautiful or creative way, and a few may even make you chuckle or shake your head.

Published in: on September 6, 2013 at 6:17 AM  Leave a Comment  

Rare 1897 Flipbook of Boxing Match

Library Journal.

Flipbook-1Does anyone remember these little “flipbooks”? While I don’t go back quite this far (1897!), I do remember books like this from my childhood, although the ones I recall were more cartoons than real life scenes. And, judging from the images on the web, they are still being made.

In any case, this 1897 flipbook is a real treat and captures a famous boxing event. The Library Journal featured this this past week (originally posted June 10, 2013). Here’s the link to see the book “in action”, and below is the brief introduction to it.

Imagine the impact of this 1897 flipbook, before television and radio!  Ringside seats to the championship match mean that the cover of this flipbook has been worn to bits.  I could safely capture a few images from the center to bring one punch back to life for you.

Living Photograph Flip Book. Novelty Export Co, 1897. 2 ¼” x 1 ½”.
James Corbett and Robert Fitzsimmons championship boxing match.

Ireland’s New Stamp Features a 224 Word Short Story

Ireland’s New Stamp Features a 224 Word Short Story | @pritheworld.

This nifty story appeared a month ago (posted June 3, 2013) first in Ireland and then here in the U.S. A rather neat way to introduce a short story – and that by a talented teenager! How’s that for motivating you to write short stories! Have a great Friday!

Irishstamp-short storyThe Irish city that was once a Viking village and is now famous for its literature is Dublin.

The list of writers, poets and playwrights associated with Dublin is a long one. Or perhaps it’s a far-reaching, elongated, and meandering one.

In any case, one on the newest literary voices is a talented teenager. 17-year-old Eoin Moore wrote a short story for a creative writing program for teenagers called Fighting Words.

His story was chosen to be published. But the coolest thing is that it was published on Ireland newest postage stamp. All 224 words of it.

The stamp celebrates Dublin’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

It’s a bright yellow, rectangular stamp (see above) with just enough space to display Eoin Moore’s story, and it’s now available at Irish post offices throughout Dublin…for just 60 cents.

The Free Little Library by Stereotank

The Free Little Library by Stereotank | Colossal.

I have so many items this week for “Friday Fun” – where do I start? – and stop?! A lot of neat (“cool”, “awesome” – take your pick!) items have crossed my screen this past week. Let’s start with this one – a new outdoor miniature library kiosk debuting in New York City this summer. Is this a great idea and design, or what?! Be sure to visit the link above to see the rest of the pictures.

The Free Little Library by Stereotank New York libraries books Recently installed in New York’s Nolita neighborhood the Free Little Library is a temporary outdoor shelving unit that functions as a free library. The clever design protects the books from the weather while allowing people to duck under a cover to see what’s available. The library was designed by Venezuelan design firm Stereotank as part of a collaboration with the Architectural League of New York and the Pen World Voices Festival who have selected 10 designers to build miniature free libraries in downtown Manhattan through September.