What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 105 of 126


A fib or a lie?

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, December 9, 2010

Fib is a short word with a long history. It comes from fible-fable, slang used in the 16th and 17th centuries to indicate nonsense, according to Webster’s.

Fib and lie both mean being untruthful, but they have different shades of meaning, or connotation.

A lie is an out-and-out untruth. A fib is a small or nearly harmless untruth. We (yes, we, I’ll fess up to fibs and I suspect you might wanna fess up, too) often tell small untruths to smooth over a social situation. (“Why, darling, your beautician used a wonderful shade of purple for your hair!”)

When I fib, I also pray that someone else does not perceive my untruth as a lie. That’s the tricky part. I generally fib if I think there is little chance of being found out. If caught in a fib, I may just have to tell another one and before long, I’ll end up with a pack of lies and a Pinochio nose.

I think Sam can be forgiven, however, for saying fib and not lie. He seems like a good-hearted soul who is just struggling to write an appropriate letter. Furthermore, by using the word fib he’s created assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds. Both fib and sin have the short i sound, so they come close to rhyming. His question is fun to read because of the assonance and because of the two-word, two-syllable rhythm: Is it/a sin/ to fib/in a/Christ/mas/let/ter?

As promised yesterday, here are answers for the tone in yesterday’s “Freshly Squeezed”:
Sam starts out his letter in an upbeat, politically correct way. In panel three, though, he changes his tone by using words with a negative connotation: idiotic and careless. The negative tone continues in the last panel with the use of the words forced and starving. His tone becomes one of exasperation or frustration. The contrast in tone is what tickles our funny bones.


 

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Life’s crossroads

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Frank and Earnest are alluding to “The Road Not Taken,” by American poet Robert Frost. The poem’s title is often mistakenly called “The Road Less Traveled” because of the popularity of the second-to-last line.

According to Wikipedia, Frost’s metaphorical poem can be interpreted either as inspirational or ironic. For more details, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road_Not_Taken_%28poem%29. Or read the entire poem below and decide for yourself.

“The Road Not Taken”

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, Mountain Interval, 1916

The poem reminds me of key decisions I’ve made on my life’s journey. I vote for the “inspirational” theory.
 

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Name that tone … and the next one, too

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In which panel does the tone of Sam’s form letter change: the first, second, third or fourth? What is the tone at the beginning of the comic strip? How would you describe the tone later on?  What words in the letter signal a change in tone?  Check tomorrow's blog for answers.
 

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A tone she won’t condone

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Good thing Sam's admitted his Christmas letter is a first draft, which is often called a rough draft. The tone is a bit rough for the holiday season. (See yesterday’s blog on tone.)

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Tone in toons

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, December 6, 2010


In “Freshly Squeezed” today cartoonist Ed Stein creates an ironic tone with the word “intimate.” Used as an adjective here, intimate means “closely acquainted or associated,” according to Webster’s. An intimate form letter is definitely a contradiction in terms. (Intimate can also be a verb, meaning to suggest or imply.)

Tone is a short word with a long list of meanings. For now, let’s just look at Webster’s definition of the word’s literary meaning: “a manner of speaking or writing that shows a certain attitude on the part of speaker or writer; consisting of choice of words or phrasing, etc.”

George Lichty’s “Grin and Bear It” below is another good example of tone in speaking or writing.

Before you analyze his caption, consider the meanings of two words: Bourgeois (boor ZWAH) is a word borrowed from the French that means materialistic or conventional, and Neanderthal refers to a primitive human being who lived many centuries ago.

Now, judging by the look on Dad’s face, how would you describe the tone of his daughter’s words?


For a fun lesson on tone that is appropriate for sixth grade, go to

http://www.brighthub.com/education/k-12/articles/11687.aspx
 

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