Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Pride and Prominence of the Pen

Why is it that some pens make my pretty--although admittedly difficult to read--handwriting look terrible. I swear, the simple grasping of a poor pen transforms it from being perfectly legible under a magnifying glass and even artistic to perfectly atrocious. Is it too much pressure? A cheap ballpoint pen whose flow 'skips'? The size of the barrel causing a shift of finger posture?

Oh for the days when penmanship mattered. Yes, for the days when otherwise straight-A students received B's and C's in penmanship (shhh, don't tell, but I was one of those...old Mrs. Dineen the homework machine in 5th grade). As lucky as we are to have word processors that allow people like my husband to prosper--he was used as the example in college of who not to write like, unless the wanted a zero on their exams; I swear--the sterile uniformity of type can never have the charm, familiarity, and subtlety that handwriting does. Even the cursive fonts cannot compare. They are simply too even and uniform. The perfect regularity is just not human.

I didn't begin this post thinking about John Ruskin, but this does sound remarkably like his treatise in Stones of Venice protesting against mechanized production which takes away the human imprint on objects by making them too perfect and repeated.

Real writing varies according to subject, mood, location, and yes, even writing instrument. In fact, there is an entire science devoted to handwriting analysis: graphology. They go far beyond determining it's Henrik's handwriting. They can tell that Henrik was in a hurry, that Henrik was stressed from school, probably even that Henrik was sick with the avian influenza. They see these things in the darkness of lines, variations of pressure, increasing space between letters, greater/lesser slant, increased misspellings, etc. I'd write you a sample of some of these things but, alas, this is faceless type. Just imagine. Or count yourself spared. There are hundreds of things that handwriting analysts can scan for--it's fascinating. But now, we're left with bland type and emoticons to fill the void. So, go buy a pen that makes you write beautifully and send me a letter.

If you're interested, here's a sample from Wikipedia of possible interpretations by graphologists. What does your handwriting say about you?

Handwriting Characteristic Interpretation
Slant of the letters
  • A forward slant indicates an emotional enthusiasm
  • Straight up and down indicates a logical nature
  • A left slant indicates introspection.
Angle of the lines on unlined paper
  • An upward slant indicates optimism and higher energy.
  • A downward slant or lines with trail off the page indicate depression or physical exhaustion.
General shape of the strokes
  • Circular handwriting indicates a highly emotional nature.
  • Angular handwriting with sharp points indicates aggressiveness, directness, and high energy
  • Square handwriting indicates a real world, practical based approach
  • Squiggles and irregular strokes indicate an artistic and non standard approach
Individual letters
  • The letter "t" has the largest number of interpretations. For example where the horizontal "bar" of the t is placed on the vertical "stem" indicates where one places their goals, while the height of the t stem indicates the potential to accomplish those goals.
  • A low t bar indicates goals set lower than what can be accomplished.
  • A t bar high on the stem indicates goals set high.
  • A t bar that is above the stem indicates setting goals higher than can be accomplished.
  • If a small "g" is drawn like a figure 8, it indicates a strong sense of humor.
  • An indented "notch" in the upper oval loop of a small "h" is the result of an arrhythmic heart beat.
  • A small "r" with a square shape indicates someone who is good with their hands
  • A small or capital letter E which is drawn with rounded edges like a reverse "3" is known as a "Greek E" and indicates someone who is well read.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Etymology : Snickerdoodle Cookies

I was struck again yesterday by the inexplicable conglomeration of words and phrases that constitutes "English". The most recent occasion of this all-too-frequent etymology perplexity was making snicker doodle cookies for Thanksgiving. I was almost certain that no snickerdoodle cookies I had ever had had snickers in them. But just to be sure I asked my friend, fulling expecting a negative answer, "They don't have snickers, do they?" No. Of course they don't, this is English. So where does this misleading name come from? We guessed that it might be Scandinavian , something like sniggerdaiden (I have no idea if that actually sounds Scandinavian). As for the meaning, the only explanation we could coming up was that they make you laugh or "snicker"...

So, after a brief consultation with The Oracle--google--we came up with a few possibilities. Here is what Wikipedia has to say:

"Nobody is sure where either the cookie or its name originated. Various food historians have shown that biscuits and cookies similar to the Snickerdoodle have been recorded in the Ancient Roman era and Medieval Europe. In Renaissance England, a cookie called a “jumble” was popular in the cuisine. Later, Germans were known to have added more spices and a variety of different dried fruits, eventually evolving into the gingerbread cookie. Cookbooks from the 18th and 19th centuries have also contained recipes comparable to the Snickerdoodle.[1]

The origin of the name “Snickerdoodle” has given rise to many theories but few facts. The Joy of Cooking claims that snickerdoodles are probably German in origin, and that the name is a corruption of the German word for "snail dumpling" (Schneckennudeln, or cinnamon-dusted sweet rolls). Similarly, one author states that “the word 'snicker' may have come from a Dutch word 'snekrad,' or the German word 'Schnecke,' both describing a snail-like shape.”[1] However, another author believes the name came from a New England tradition of fanciful, whimsical cookie names,[2] and yet another cites a series of tall tales around a hero named Snickerdoodle from the early 1900s.[3]"

Now personally the last explanation is my favorite, and I think it's just as likely for the simple reason that none of the possibilities make sense. A snail shape? Have they ever seen a snickerdoodle. For those who haven't, or can't remember, here's a picture. In fact, there is an entire chidlren's series by Otis Ham from the early 1900s--clearly predating all modern superheroes--based on the hero "Snickerdoodle" who rides around in a peanut mobile. Snickerdoodle is called, "the tiny pre-runner to superman."

Wow. All the things I never knew.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Good Old Days

I was reading this morning an argument by St. Jerome against Helvidius from about 383 A.D. Really, I wish that book reviews--or political debates, for that matter --were written this way now...they would be far more interesting. This puts the old rhetorical tricks to shame. Here are a few specimens:

"I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating."

"To defend his position he piles up text upon text, waves his sword like a blind-folded gladiator, rattles his noisy tongue, and ends with wounding no one but himself."

"Now that I have cleared the rocks and shoals I must spread sail and make all speed to reach his epilogue. Feeling himself to be a smatterer, he there produces Tertullian as a witness and quotes the words of Victorinus bishop ofPetavium. Of Tertullian I say no more than that he did not belong to the Church. But as regards Victorinus, I assert what has already been proved from the Gospel—that he spoke of the brethren of the Lord not as being sons of Mary, but brethren in the sense I have explained, that is to say, brethren in point of kinship not by nature. We are, however, spending our strength on trifles, and, leaving the fountain of truth, are following the tiny streams of opinion. Might I not array against you the whole series of ancient writers? Ignatius, Polycarp, Irenæus, Justin Martyr, and many other apostolic and eloquent men, who against Ebion, Theodotus of Byzantium, and Valentinus, held these same views, and wrote volumes replete with wisdom. If you had ever read what they wrote, you would be a wiser man. But I think it better to replybriefly to each point than to linger any longer and extend my book to an undue length."

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Value of A Good Librarian

The value of a good librarian cannot be underestimated.

I am, in general, very easily intimidated by store personnel. I hate asking for help, religiously avoid stores that have "hoverers" (like The Buckle, Limited, and Motherhood Maternity), and refuse to buy anything at gas stations where items have no prices. Cashiers who comment on items you're purchasing bother me to no end, the gay man at the lotion kiosk in the center of the mall with his nail spiel, and most recently, the librarian who was a little too interested in my fine.

Fines should be things that you're informed of, you pay, and life moves on without mentioning it ever again. There should be no guilt involved--especially if you are paying the fine! There should be no dirty looks. There should be no suggestions on avoiding this fine in the future. Oh no, it should be left in the dust so that I may continue my patronage of the library without shame or cowardice. I have officially switched libraries because of this awkward situation--even though I have paid in full. Where I once went to the Middletown Free Library and had all of my reserved books sent there (about 5 a week), I have now taken my business and reserved books to the Aston Public Library. So you see, a good, gracious librarian, cannot be underestimated.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bending the Rules: Biscotti

I love biscotti. It's really just an excuse--and a really good one, at that--to eat cookies for breakfast. The fact that they are Italian and "high class" isn't all that bad either. A long crisp cookie with succulent almonds and anise and a generous drizzling of chocolate on the top. They say that biscotti is perfect for dipping, and it is, if you want to find cookie pieces in the bottom of your cup of coffee. Even so, they are probably the best complement to coffee for breakfast that you'll ever find. Now if only all the butter and sugar didn't occasionally wreak havoc with my tummy...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Sound Bites, Toe Bites, and Mosquito Bites

Sound bites are short, frequently dumb, and very meticulously concocted.

Toe bites come from animals and small children--my son was crawling around on the floor at my parents and meticulously crawled right up under the stool that my grandmother was sitting on. From there he decided to try out two lonely baby teeth by taking in a mouthful of my grandmother's sock-clad toes. Now he is trying to bite mine, which are bare.

Mosquito bites, no matter how deliberately you fight against them cannot be prevented. Do not try. They are meticulous in their biting. I do not like them.

Games People Play

I just put a finger on what was bothering me yesterday morning. It wasn't our ridiculous budget, the hopeless heaps of books, or my I-can't-believe-I-forgot-the-sugar cookies. No, the little knot in my stomach was tightening again. In fact, without my noticing it, it had been tightening just a little bit each morning that I opened the cupboard to make my customary pot of coffee. I had just a small stack of coffee filters less--from experience I could tell just by looking at it that there were less than two weeks worth left. For the record, let it show that I had noticed this stack diminishing for the last month; every time I was at the grocery store I would look at "coffee filters" on my list and decide against it. Not yet. I must wait until I'm at Big Lots. They are $1.50 cheaper there. Then I would be at Big Lots and decide against getting them. Not yet, I say. I think I can make it until my next trip ( 10 days). In the mean time, my stack in the cupboard is getting uncomfortably small. How would my morning be if I suddenly just ran out and had to forgo my cu of coffee? Worse yet, what if my addiction so compelled me to make an additional trip to the grocery store? Awful. Why do I do this to myself? It's just one more of those sick games that frugal housewives play.