Thursday, August 31, 2017

Moderation and Disappointment

I began this blog in 2009, and since that date I have enjoyed meeting writers through the comments section, hearing their ideas, and finding new books to read. Not once in all that time did I read a comment that made me cringe or feel angry or offended. Until this week.

I should have known that my lucky run of sensible, intelligent comments from interested and well-meaning readers and writers had to come to an end some time. No one is immune to or out of reach of the trolls of this online world, and one of them found my blog and let me know. The comment was pornographic, so I deleted it. I later considered how lonely and sad someone had to be to bother to write such a post and spend the time to find somewhere to plant it. Perhaps dozens or hundreds of bloggers are finding the same post on their blogs this week (I don’t want to know), but there’s nothing more for the writer to gain from it. I considered ignoring it, but today I received another post, this one in Arabic, which I don’t read, so I have no idea what it means. But clearly the trolls have found me. So, to prevent a recurrence I’ve introduced moderating. I will do my best to respond promptly to all comments, in order to encourage a discussion among readers.

For the last several months I've noticed the increase in readers, which are really bots. I don't believe 400 people read my posts. It's amusing sometimes to discover that most of my readers are in Russia. I do have friends in India, so I'm not surprised when that country lights up a light green, but dark green for Russia and Eastern Europe can only mean bots. I suspect the bots and trolls will move on, but until then (or perhaps never) I have to be less open, and moderate every comment. Perhaps I'm lucky my blog lasted this long without offensive comments.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about blogging is the spontaneity involved in reading and reacting. Most of the comments about writing on my and other people’s blogs are interesting, thoughtful or useful, and worth reading. They are usually initial reactions and thus honest and without guile. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I rarely came across a comment that made me wonder about the character of the writer. I hope that will continue. But for now, all comments go through moderation, which means comments that you as a reader might reply to won’t show up right away. I hope this won’t deter readers from sharing their ideas and reactions, which I consider as important as the blog.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

More Word Usage and Abusage

I subscribe to a number of sites on grammar and word usage, intended mostly for other writers. Recently a post arrived that seemed interesting and I read through the examples of words and phrases used or spelled incorrectly, followed by the correct form. Alas, one example had the correct and incorrect forms reversed. That led me to an online exploration of eggcorns. (Remember those? We used to collect them as children but back then they were called acorns.)

Eggcorns, if you recall, are words or phrases known but misunderstood by the speaker and thus replaced by plausible, similar-sounding alternatives. The term was coined in 2003 by someone who misspelled acorn as eggcorn. Back when I was prone to collecting acorns I also collected cliches and eggcorns, trying to figure out how the human mind came up with them.

A phrase becomes a cliche, after all, because it has proved useful, and I wanted to grasp how several of these had sounded the first time they were used. Homer’s wine-dark sea, for example, has little meaning to someone who lives on the American Prairie or the Atlantic seaboard and looks out day after day on the undulating blues and sometimes greens and grays of bays and harbors. But one day, while sailing with my family, we were caught in a squall, and the aptness of “wine-dark sea” became vividly clear. Sometimes an eggcorn, phrase or term, reflects an uncertain grasp of the original intent but a determination to convey something close to the presumed meaning, and this, I think, reflects well on the speaker or writer. I’ve collected a few here, including the one that set me thinking about this topic.

saying (or writing):
“all intensive purposes” when you mean “all intents and purposes”
“daring-do” when you mean “derring-do”

“after all is set and done” when you mean “after all is said and done”

“a new leash on life” when you mean “a new lease on life”

The next (and last) one is the impetus for this post.

saying “to the manor born” when you mean “to the manner born”

Historians and etymologists might argue how the error arose (misunderstanding of the original phrase, intended satire, or social commentary), but the word manner is undoubtedly correct. The phrase was probably coined by Shakespeare, and appears in Hamlet (1602), Act 1, Scene 4:

HORATIO:     Is it a custom?
HAMLET:      Ay, marry, is’t./
      But to my mind, though I am native here/
      And to the manner born, it is a custom/
      More honoured in the breach than the observance.

According to the website (noted below), “The meaning is clear. Hamlet knows the custom being spoken of because he is native, that is, born locally.

The editor of the site goes on to add: “The ‘manor’ version comes much later. The earliest reference I’ve found so far is in The Times, July 1859, in a story about the Emperor of France’s visit to Austria.” For more on this, go to

For a list of eggcorns, go to

For a list of eggcorns, including the erroneous manor for manner, go to

And for a list of my books, which I hope are cliche and error free (but probably not because I am, after all, human. Eek! Another cliche!), go to:

Thursday, August 17, 2017

My Day Off

I sometimes feel I need a day off, so I visit a few reliable places of interest. Recently I made my usual trek to Salem. But before I did that, I had lunch. We have several new restaurants in the small city where I live, and I’m beginning to feel quite sophisticated in this old industrial city. At Tartine Kitchen & Eatery I enjoyed a simple lunch before going on to a local museum.

Every summer the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, mounts what only could be called the Summer Show, something light for families, easy on the brain and the eyes. This year it’s Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style. I especially like the Art Deco period, which seemed to suit the idea of living at sea for five days just right.

My favorite spot in the museum is the Yin Yu Tang House, which the museum purchased from the family who had lived in the house for 200 years, in Southwestern China. There was some heated discussion later about whether or not China should have let one of its treasures leave the country, but at the time it was sold it wasn’t considered anything but an old house, one of many. You can take a video tour at Each family within the family lived in one room, looking out on the walkway/balcony and the courtyard below. This is where I finally understand the focus on the large bed with its elaborate decorations. This piece of furniture takes up most of the space, and is the largest and most important item in the room.

The view of the Chinese House from any angle is beautiful. I took this photo from the memorial park dedicated to the nineteen men and women convicted of witchcraft. You can’t see in this photograph the benches carved with the names and dates and manner of execution of the convicted individuals, but every day I’ve been there I’ve seen people walking through and studying the benches. The Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated in August 1992 by Novel Laureate Elie Wiesel. Many of us who have long family lines in this area discover relatives connected with the witch trials. My distant relation Sarah Warren died in prison before she could be tried and convicted. She refused to name others in order to free herself. That’s a heritage I’m glad to share.

I don’t think of these days out as a way to gather ideas for my writing, though of course that often happens. I think of them as a chance to think about other things, or nothing at all. A walking meditation, as it were. It’s all about balance, and letting the mind rest. I often take a book to read and find a quiet place to enjoy it. For me this is a perfect day.

To find my books, for a perfect day, go here:

Friday, August 11, 2017

Excess and Hyperbole

No one who reads or listens can have missed some of the changes in our language that have occurred over the last few months as well as years. The current POTUS isn’t one for moderate or measured speech, but he isn’t the only one for whom words of excess and extravagance are the first choice in a vocabulary. Alas, I too am guilty.

I have learned to ignore the blurbs on the back covers of books I’m considering reading because they are usually all praise and no insight. I learn nothing about the book that will tell me what it is about; instead I learn how much the writer of the blurb liked it. I’m glad she liked it, but that doesn’t mean I will. The same is true of much of what is written about movies and plays, bicycles and new cars, clothing and lawn equipment. Everything is great, excellent, the best, fabulous. Whatever happened to “good enough” or “it’ll do the job”? Is every event great? Or, the best ever? Are we really on an unbroken upward trajectory? I doubt it.

Some years ago I came across a vintage ad selling soap that was of three grades—good, better, best. Each grade has its specific use, and there was no shame in using the lowest grade for its appropriate purpose. I like that. Why buy the absolute best mustard when it’s buried under onions and smoked ham when the lesser kind will suffice? Why buy the most expensive cleanser when vinegar and water will do?

I miss the quiet voice of reason in ordinary conversation, especially now as political rhetoric heats up over events that should make rational men and women lower their voices and think harder, not less. It’s easy to be swept up in the “enthusiasm” of touting this or that, but it’s not more beneficial than choosing to be accurate in our evaluations. Here I was about to write “I might love a particular book” when I realized I was doing it too, falling into the bad habit that has spread insidiously in our speech and writing. As a Brazilian friend pointed out, Americans claim to “love” just about everything. So here is my correction: I might enjoy a particular novel, find scenes in it that seem especially perceptive or moving or startling, but I don’t really “love” the book. Once again, if I remove the hyperbole I can look more closely and describe more accurately the reading experience I did have.

Since I can only speak for myself, here is my pledge: to be more mindful of my language so that instead of hyperbole I present a more accurate depiction of the experience or object or idea. That sounds so simple.

And because this blog is about writing and my life as a writer (or something like that), I’m pleased to report that my next Anita Ray short story, “A Slight Deviation from the Mean,” will appear in the November/December 2017 issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

You can find more Anita Ray fiction here: