What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 101 of 132

A penchant for parsing

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, February 25, 2011

The word “parse” made me smile as I scanned the front page of today’s paper. As a retired language arts teacher, I confess I like to parse.

In its literal sense, parse means to break down a sentence into its grammatical parts. Parsing a sentence in English means deciding which word is a noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction or interjection and then understanding how the words work in relation to each other. (See example below.)

As used in the headline, parse also means to break down. The story describes how students are breaking down not parts of a sentence but various aspects of a courtroom trial. They’re learning about key procedures such as opening statements, direct and cross examinations and closing arguments. Then, in mock (pretend) trials, they practice their skills in these procedures and other skills lawyers must have.

Oh, and the students are also taking time to look up the various meanings of an important legal word, “verdict.”

Parsing a sentence:

Clever students meet in a classroom, and   they    diligently    practice their legal skills.
adj       noun      verb   prep adj noun  conj pronoun adverb     verb      pronoun adj noun

 If GJHS beats out chief rival Glenwood Springs in the Western Slope regional tournament, we can all use this appropriate interjection:



Rebirthing, then and now

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, February 24, 2011

Oh, to be a Renaissance man – or woman!

The photo above appeared on today’s “You Saw It” page. Its caption notes that these singers performed at the Renaissance Feast recently at Mesa State College. If the food was as appealing as their costumes, it must have been a wonderful evening.

The Renaissance, according to Webster’s, was “the great revival of art, literature and learning in Europe in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, based on classical sources.” Webster’s also notes that the Renaissance started in Italy, spread to other European countries and served as the transition from medieval times to the modern world.

The period is well named. Renaissance means “rebirth,” and that is what happened in disciplines ranging from art, literature, and music to philosophy, science and religion.

The Renaissance gave the world artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, writers such as William Shakespeare, composers such as William Byrd, philosophers such as Rene Descartes, scientists such as Galileo and religious leaders such as Martin Luther.

Nowadays, if someone were to call us a Renaissance man or woman, we would be receiving a high compliment. It means a person who is “well-versed in many or, ideally, all of the arts and sciences” (Webster’s).

As complex as our world now is, we could conceivably spend all our lives trying to merit such praise. Even so, it’d be a worthwhile goal.

         William Shakespeare                  Leonardo da Vinci                      Galileo Galilei 

All portrait reproductions courtesy of Wikipedia                    


Drugged-up murderers or ‘patriots and martyrs’

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The word “assassin” is emotionally charged. It means the murderer of someone prominent, such as President John Kennedy in 1963 and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968.

Knowing this word’s origin intensifies its impact. Webster’s says it comes from the Arab word hashshashin, or hashish users. Webster’s first definition of assassin is “a member of a secret terrorist sect of Muslims of the 11th-13th cent., who killed their political enemies as a religious duty, allegedly while under the influence of hashish.”

From assassin came the verb assassinate (ate is a suffix that means to become or cause to become, according to Webster’s) and another noun, assassination, or the act of killing a well-known figure.

The word morphed into its current meaning long before the 1960s. For instance, Isaac Arnold used it in a lengthy article published in Harper’s Monthly in June 1868. The article was on the alleged plot to kill Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore en route to his inauguration in Washington, DC.

Though historians do not fully agree whether there was indeed an assassination plot, in 1868 Harper’s apparently concluded that the conspiracy was real. Whether one chooses to believe Arnold’s account of that episode or not, his article is a riveting piece of writing. Despite words that seem quite old-fashioned to us, the account vividly describes the steps that were taken to prevent Lincoln’s murder by famed detective Allan Pinkerton and men and women working for him. Here’s an excerpt:

“Pinkerton then, himself, went over the ground, detailing to Mr. Lincoln all the facts connected with Fernandina, Hill, and others, the condition of popular feeling, and the plans of the assassins; also the fact that Kane, Chief of Police, had declared that he would give him no “police escort.” He told him there were perhaps ten or fifteen desperadoes—wild, enthusiastic young men—who had been wrought up to a pitch of fanaticism, in which they really believed they would be patriots and martyrs in taking his life, even at the cost of their own; that they had bound themselves by oaths to assassinate him”

The full account may be accessed at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/moahtml/title/harp_vols.html. (Reproductions of Harper’s articles from 1850 through 1895 are at the same site.)

According to Wikipedia, critics frequently chastised Lincoln over his stealthy passage through Baltimore. Given Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, those same critics might well have deserved some chastisement of their own.

"’Passage Through Baltimore’. President-elect Lincoln depicted

ignominiously hiding in a cattle car by Adalbert J. Volck, 1863“

Illustration and cutline courtesy of Wikipedia


Moving words help capture moving story

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Writing a one-column headline can be challenging. The “hed” writer has to capture the essence of a story in just a few short words. An example is the headline on Libya above, which contains two strong action verbs, reel and escalate, to help summarize the story.

The country of Libya is not physically staggering, which is the literal sense of reel, but normalcy for millions of citizens there certainly is being buffeted by the government’s lethal crackdown on protesters. So, reel, in the sense of shaky uncertainty, is an appropriate word to use.

Escalates, in this sense, means to expand or grow rapidly. It is a back formation from the Americanism escalator, which was once a trademarked name for, of course, a moving staircase. The trademark was taken from elevator and the Italian word scala, which means steps, according to About.com (http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blescalator.htm).

(A back formation is when a word is created when the affix of another is taken away. Two examples are edit from editor and diagnose from diagnosis, according to Webster’s.)

Ironically, escalate has been an American word adopted by the Italians, meaning to intensify, add to or rise, according to mydictionary.net (http://www.mydictionary.net/italian/scala.html).

Look for more action verbs as headline writers continue to encapsulate news updates of people risking their lives for reform. For more details on today’s story on Libya, go to our print edition or e-edition and/or head to www.gjsentinel.com for any breaking news.

Map of Libya courtesy of Wikipedia


Trevor’s trophy harks back to ancient warfare

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, February 21, 2011

Age and cunning beat out youth and skill every time. Not.

At least not in the case of Trevor Bayne, the 20-year-old who is now the youngest driver ever to win the Daytona 500.

On Sunday Bayne held off much more experienced drivers, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr., David Ragan and Tony Stewart, to claim the winner’s trophy. In accepting the trophy, he participated in a rite that goes back thousands of years.

Rewarding a winner with a trophy originated in ancient Greek and Roman times, when soldiers would pile up captured weapons and other spoils of war from their enemy to symbolize their victory, according to Webster’s. The Greek word tropaion meant a symbol of an enemy’s defeat.

Bayne alluded to the possibility of having enemies when he joked that one of his competitors might come after him while he slept Sunday night. (Some might now consider him the bane of their existence.) After all, they were also driven to capture a prize with huge symbolism in the racing world: the Harley J. Earl Trophy.

“The Harley J. Earl Trophy is named after famed General Motors car designer Harley Earl. Earl, the second commissioner of NASCAR, was the designer of the Chevrolet Corvette; his Firebird I concept car provides the basis of the automobile that sits atop the trophy,” according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia also explains that the trophy “stands about four feet tall, and five feet wide, and is in the same triangular "tri-oval" shape of Daytona International Speedway.”

It is important to note that Bayne does not get the actual trophy. It is only removed from a museum close to the racetrack to appear in Victory Lane along with each year’s winner. Instead, each year’s winner gets a replica of the trophy,

“The replica trophies weigh 54 pounds (24 kg), and measure 18 inches (460 mm) tall, 22 inches (560 mm) wide and 12 inches (300 mm) deep,” again according to Wikipedia.

After knocking off such fierce competition, Bayne probably doesn’t mind taking a home a knockoff trophy, especially since a $1.46 million paycheck is another part of the spoils of this racing war. To learn more details of his unexpected victory, check out today’s print or e-edition.


Page 101 of 132


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