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Words are fascinating ... Put them together in the right way, and we can communicate with people in other places and other times. Make a mess of it and ...

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Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Most Ridiculous Word

English has an estimated 1 million words, so it's no surprise that some of them would have to be a bit on the ridiculous side, is it?

What's the most ridiculous word you know?

Susan Letham posed this interesting question in an article called, "Wordwork: The Perfect Choice." (Susan is a British writer and creative writing tutor. Her site is: )

So ... what's the most ridiculous word you know? Here are a couple of contenders from my list of favourites:

absquatulate - run away; usually includes taking something or somebody along (

footle - act foolishly, as by talking nonsense (

mammothrept - a child brought up by its grandmother; a spoiled child (

Add yours by clicking on the Comments below. The words must be "real" words, found in "real" dictionaries ... not just in lists of made-up words!

Feel free to add any interesting information about the origins of your word. (See my posting on Tragedy for an example of weird origins!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Never-Ending Story ...

The Never-Ending Story has grown too large and now has its very own blog!

Go here to read the latest instalment and to add your own:

NB All comments from the original have been transferred over!

How to Create a Hero ... The Lone Ranger!

"A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi-Yo, Silver! The Lone Ranger! With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early West. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear... The Lone Ranger rides again!"

It was on the 30 January 1933 that the Lone Ranger first rode across our imaginations on his white horse, Silver, inviting listeners to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

What is it about these serial heroes, the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, Superman, Spiderman, the Phantom?

Why do we remember them?

Because they're larger than life and they provide an escape from the routine of everyday life.
Because they do and say things we'd all like to do and say - if only ...
Because they remind us of times when we had fewer worries and responsibilities in our lives.

The sound of the theme music can take you back to days when you'd rush inside from playing out the back with all your friends and huddle around the radio with your family to find out how your hero was going to extricate himself from the predicament of the previous episode.

It's ironic that the Lone Ranger, the hero who's still so fondly remembered by millions around the world as an idealist - fighting to rid the West of outlaws - was created as a carefully calculated way to save an ailing radio station and make money.

A Hero is Created

According to 'Who Was That Masked Man? The Story of the Lone Ranger' by David Rothel (1981), George W. Trendle had acquired radio station WXYZ in Detroit in 1929. This was at the start of the Great Depression, when the economy was nose-diving, so Trendle had to think of a way of keeping his station afloat.

The following information is taken from an article by J.Brian III that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on October 14, 1939:

"Trendle came up with the basic idea for a Western with a hero who embodied the qualities of Zorro and Robin Hood. He settled on a drama as the format, but what kind of drama --for adults or kids? He opted for kids, because they're less critical, and therefore the program need not be so expensive or elaborate. Besides, Trendle believed that most parents buy advertised products because their kids coax them into it.What kind of kid drama? Trendle knew that kids' favourites were crime stories and Westerns. He decided against crime because he wanted his program to be completely wholesome and he also wanted a program that had the potential to create advertising revenue from future sponsors. A crime program was limited to masks, badges and weapons, but a Western opened the field of costume and saddlery as well.The next question was the time frame for the series. It couldn't be a contemporary drama, because the script writer would be cramped by having to stay within the realms of probability, so he decided to set the Ranger's adventures somewhere between 1865 and 1890. "

The Lone Ranger Emerges

Drama requires a hero. What kind would this one be? Young or mature? Trendle wanted a mature hero, because he believed it was better to respect than to envy.Finally, how to distinguish him from a thousand other Western heroes?

He had a vague idea of what he wanted in his hero, picturing him as a composite of Robin Hood and Zorro, but the picture was little more than an outline, when he discussed it with his studio staff, in December, 1932.

Their first objection was that the hero had no mystery and little romance. Why not make him a sort of benevolent outlaw and give him a mask?


Then it was suggested that he needed something distinctive as an identification. How bout a super-horse, possibly a white Arabian?

The Arabian was rejected on the grounds that it was too small, but the idea of the white horse became part of the Lone Ranger's image. Trendle also liked the idea of the white horse because he knew it would remind children of the kids' superstition of licking your thumb and stamping the palm of your hand whenever you saw a white horse.

Staff at the radio station then sat down and made up the Lore of the Lone Ranger:

the mask
the white horse
the signature line "Hi-yo, Silver, away!"
the silver bullets
the Lone Ranger's faithful companion, Tonto
the expression "Kemo Sabe"

Fran Striker

Fran Striker was the writer responsible for developing the story lines and he thought he remembered that Robin Hood had silver tipped arrows, so he introduced the idea of the silver bullet and then built the mystique around the colour silver.

It was also Striker who wrote the Lone Ranger's Creed - the words that formed the basis of the Masked man's appeal. Who doesn't want to be like the Lone Ranger - having the power to make the world a better place; believing in the value of friendship and that "truth alone, lives on forever"?

Striker had to guard against anachronisms for instance, when blasting came into the plot of one of his earlier stories he had to refer to blasting powder, not dynamite.

Read more about Fran Striker here.

First Episode

The first episode went to air on 30 January 1933 and quickly became popular, being taken up by stations around the country.

Initially the show was heard over WXYZ, and later, on the Michigan Regional Network. By the mid-1930s, the show was also running on Chicago's WGN and New York's WOR. That trio of stations (WOR-WGN-WXYZ) became the Mutual Broadcasting Network. Soon after, the Lone Ranger series was picked up by the Don Lee Network in California.

Sound Effects

One of the best features of the show was the sound effects. To represent galloping horses, the men stamped ordinary bathroom plungers into a trough of sand or gravel, according to the terrain. Every studio has had trouble imitating a gunshot; even a cap pistol would almost break the microphone. WXYZ's solution was so good that NBC sent an expert out to investigate it: They smacked a leather cushion with a cane.

Publicity Machine

The Lone Ranger Safety Club was not only an ingenious piece of promotion but also a handy index to the popularity of the program. One evening in October, 1935, the Ranger told the children to go to their neighborhood grocer to get an application card for the club. The card read:
I solemnly promise:

(1) Not to cross any street except at regular crossings and to first look both ways.
(2) Not to play in the streets.
(3) To always tell the truth.

There were ten such promises in all. When the child and one of its parents had signed the card, the Ranger sent a notification of membership and a private code. Almost as an afterthought, he added this bait:

"P.S.: Of course you will want a Lone Ranger Badge. To earn this beautiful badge, all you have to do is have three of your neighbors who do not now use (.....) regularly promise to buy (.....) on their next trip to the food store. I am enclosing a card which I want you to return to me when it is filled out."

By December seventh, six weeks after the campaign had started, 475,574 badges had been distributed; by early January, 535,495. The total in 1939 was more than 2,000,000. In addition, half a million masks were given away and 2,000,000 "photographs" of the Ranger (these were photographs of an idealised oil painting).

Much of the Ranger's mail was from children angrily declaring that a certain member was not eating the sponsor's bread or had revealed the code (read A for B, B for C, and so on). One frantic father had to wire WFIL for the code. His son had sent him an important letter--so important that he did not dare trust it to the mails uncoded.


A series of short films were then made (starting production in 1937) and were shown at the Saturday matinees throughout the US and overseas.

A television series and then spin-off cartoons and comic books followed, meaning that the Lone Ranger became accessible to generations of people around the world. Children tuned in to the Lone Ranger with their parents and then with their own grandchildren - such was the popularity of the character.

Just think about the marketing research that must go into modern products when there's so much more money at stake these days!

Punctuation? Why Bother?

Yes, I know it's not one of the most exciting parts of language, but it IS important. It's another one of those basics that can make all the difference to your writing. Everyone knows that the competition on the Web is fierce - you have to do everything you can to make your site the best it can be and that includes paying attention to the little things - like punctuation.

Look at the following sentences:

Don't stop.
Don't, stop.

The first is a request to continue with the action; the second is the exact opposite - it's saying that the action should cease. (Cast your mind back to a couple of real-life situations you've experienced and just think of the ramifications of leaving out that little punctuation mark!)

Commas are used to indicate a short pause - they alert the reader to the fact that the next thought will be connected to the one that has preceded it. (A full stop tells the reader that a new thought is about to start.)

Some writers adopt the "when in doubt, leave it out" approach, but, as we've already seen in the example above, the placement of a comma can radically alter the meaning of a sentence:

He was kicked by a mule which annoyed him. (The mule annoyed him.)
He was kicked by a mule, which annoyed him. (Being kicked annoyed him.)

Sometimes, omitting a comma can lead to ridiculous meanings:

While mother was cooking the baby wandered away.

Often, commas have to be used to avoid ambiguity in sentences:

You don't really like it; you're only pretending to please me.
You don't really like it; you're only pretending, to please me.

These sentences have two quite different meanings - as a result of the placement of the comma. (This is one of the really annoying things about built-in grammar programs, they can't respond to subtleties of meaning - my page is littered with wiggly green lines at the moment!)

There are pages of rules that govern the use of commas, but the best rule is to read the sentence - aloud - and notice where you would pause to convey the intended meaning. If it's a short pause (and the idea is all part of a single thought), whack in a comma. If it's a longer pause (but still part of the same thought), use a semi-colon. If it's the end of a completed thought - use a full stop. Now what could be easier?

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Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bread and Boats

About 10 years ago, my mother bought us a bread-making machine, and I have to say it's just the best thing since ... well, sliced bread!

When you make your own bread, you always know exactly what's in it ... I buy stone-ground organic flour and then toss in any interesting seeds and bits and pieces I happen to have around. I usually add some of the carrot pulp from our morning vegetable juice and always a little maize to make the crust crunchy. That's all bread is really, just flour and water, a spoonful of oil (cold-pressed, virgin olive, of course), a pinch of salt and a spoonful of sweetener (I use honey or golden syrup instead of white sugar) ... Oh and one more thing ... yeast!

I've been making bread for 30+ years; originally the old-fashioned way where you wrapped the dough in a clean towel and put it somewhere warm to rise, then punched it down and let it rise again etc etc, and more recently, I've made it the much quicker way in the machine. So you'd think I'd know what I was doing by now, wouldn't you?


A week or so before Christmas, I weighed out all the ingredients for my bread, tossed in eye of newt and toe of frog, switched on the machine and trotted off to my office to start work. One of the things I love about making bread is the smell ... you just can't beat that wonderful, fresh bread aroma wafting through the place. (Whenever we're selling a house, I always make sure I'm baking bread when we have inspections ... It's much more effective than coffee perking on the stove!)

So, this particular day, I was tapping away at the keyboard, on a roll (if you'll pardon the pun) when the bread machine beeped to announce it was finished. As I walked into the kitchen I wondered why I couldn't smell the bread and thought sadly that perhaps I was just accustomed to it after all this time.

I then got out my cooling rack, my oven mitts and opened the lid to reveal ...

Squinting, I peered in ... Where was my beautiful, crusty loaf that usually spills out over the top of the tin?

A closer inspection disclosed a sorry little lump huddled at the bottom of the baking tin ... and skulking behind the kitchen scales (that I'd left out for some other cooking I was planning to do later in the day) was the packet of yeast!

After a great deal of coaxing, the embarrassed agglomeration of flour and water finally emerged from the tin to land with a thud on the bench, where it sat while I pondered whether or not to try slicing it and passing it off as a quaint bread recipe I'd found on the Internet or consign it to the compost heap.

The moral of the story, boys and girls? Bread without yeast is just hard glue!

That day, I suggested we treat ourselves to lunch at the beach rather than the fresh-bread sandwiches to be eaten on the deck as I'd originally promised, so we bought fish and chips at sat by the water admiring a red, green and yellow boat bobbing on the bay.

How many boats did we see, I hear you ask?

Hard to tell from that description, isn't it? That's because you use articles (a, an, the) to indicate that nouns or adjectives are to be taken separately.

e.g. ...admiring a red, a green and a yellow boat (this indicates that there were three separate boats, all of different colours)


... admiring a red, green and yellow boat (indicates that the boat was multi-coloured)

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Friday, January 07, 2005

If Only ...

My husband has just spent a week visiting his mother and sister who live (as I've mentioned before ) in an area on the NSW south coast that's been dubbed the Sapphire Coast. His sister has a magic home complete with its own little chapel. It's built right in the middle of the bush, and her neighbours are wallabies, wombats and hundreds of birds ... it's one of those places you feel good just thinking about. (You can see a couple of recent snaps here: )

He was telling me about one of the wall hangings his sister has in her (ecumenical) chapel ... and when we looked for it this morning on the Internet, my old mate google delivered as usual. Here it is:

The Indian Ten Commandments

Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect
Remain close to the Great Spirit
Show great respect for your fellow beings
Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
Do what you know to be right
Look after the well-being of Mind and Body
Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good
Be truthful and honest at all times
Take full responsibility for your actions

Wouldn't the world be a happier and better place if we all practised these commandments?

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

What a Tragedy!

A "tragedy," Boys and Girls, is a play (usually in three acts) where the main character comes to grief because of a fatal flaw in his (or her) personality. It's also used to refer to any disaster that ends in loss of life ...

Mind you, a quick check in my trusty Webster's reveals some fascinating details about the origin of this word. It comes from two Greek words, tragos - a he-goat and oide - a song ... or a ... "a goat singer!" See the connection now?


Me neither ... let's have another look ...

Hmmm ... it seems that once upon a time, whenever these old tragedies were performed (the plays that always ended in tears and sent the audience away thanking their lucky stars they hadn't fallen in love with their mothers etc), it was the custom to sacrifice a goat and sing a bit of a song before the play got under way - hence the term "part that comes after the goat-singer" or "tragedy."

Another guess ... er ...theory is that goats were often offered as prizes for these performances (whether for the playwright or actors my source doesn't say) ... hence the term "goat-actors" or "tragedy!"

Don't fancy that one either? OK, how about theory number three:

Because these plays dealt with characters who were brought to ruin and suffered extreme sorrow as a consequence of their own tragic flaws, moral weaknesses or inability to cope with unfavourable circumstances, and because these were performed live, without the aid of the instant replay, they had to show how down and out on their luck they were, so they dressed in goat-skins ... hence the term "daggy, you-got-everything-you-deserved you, you, nasty person dressed in a goatskin you" or, "tragedy."

I kid you not (pregnant pause inserted while you marvel at the pun ...)

Visit the Archives of The Write Way newsletter for more fascinating insights into the English language ...

THAT Week ...

It's difficult to be flippant after a week that's seen such numbing loss of life. It's a bit like that early Star Wars movie, when a whole planet is destroyed by the baddies, and Obi-Wan (or one of the characters) physically feels the sudden reduction in the Life Force of the Universe ... It affects us all.

There are three things that have struck me about this whole, dreadful time ...

The first is that the tsunami didn't take any notice of how much money its victims had or what religion they believed in or their age or their sex or their colour or whether they were good or bad. If they were in the wrong spot at the wrong time, then that was all it took.

The second thing that this catastrophe has illustrated is the way people rally around to help each other. Admittedly, some of the governments have been a tad slow to get organised, but the 'real' people everywhere have risen to the challenge, as they ... we ... always do. No-one stopped to ask who you'd voted for in the last election before they pulled you from the swirling waters ... the hand was just there for anyone who needed it.

It makes you proud to call yourself a carbon-based biped, and I think this willingness to drop everything and help out is one of our most endearing qualities, don't you?

As I watched all the news footage, lines from a poem kept floating through my mind, and I found it this morning, after a search on my mate google. Here's the part I kept remembering:

The glories of our blood and state
Are shadows, not substantial things;
There is no armour against Fate;
Death lays his icy hand on kings:
Sceptre and crown
Must tumble down,
And in the dust be equal made
With the poor crooked scythe and spade.

It's by a C17th poet, James Shirley, and it's called fittingly Death the Leveller. You can read the rest of the poem here:

Not sure I entirely agree with the last stanza; it's a smidge too sentimental for little old cynical me ...

The third and final thing that the tsunami has left me with is a tendency to look over my shoulder whenever I'm walking along the water's edge. I can't help but put myself in the place of all those people who were going about their daily activities when their entire world was quite literally turned upside down ...

As I've walked and swum this past week, I've looked across at Moreton Island (quite high, but completely made of sand) and after seeing what happened in the Indian Ocean, my previous belief that it would dissipate any unwelcome waves no longer offers any comfort.

But you can't live your life looking over your shoulder, can you? So we look for the positive in such disasters and see people reaching out from every country to help when help is needed. And that, boys and girls, is what being a human is all about ...