What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 117 of 132

Barnacle Bill

By Debra Dobbins
Friday, October 29, 2010

Score another point for the missus. If hubby manages to come to the table for a nutritious dinner, maybe he’ll find the energy to dress up as Barnacle Bill on Sunday.

Have a happy, safe Halloween!


Sitting about for eons

By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, October 28, 2010

Score one for the missus. The correct word is sedentary. It means “marked by much sitting about.”

Sedimentary is “having the nature of, or containing sediment.” Sediment is “matter that settles to the bottom of a liquid [or] matter deposited by water or wind.” (All definitions are from Webster’s.)

Let’s give hubby a break, though. One could argue that sediment does a lot of “sitting about” after it’s deposited.

Want proof? Look no farther than the Colorado National Monument. Though the monument is testimony to the effects of erosion, some of its geological layers have sat for millions of years. To better understand this natural wonder, go to http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/parks/colm.


Killer wave

By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The word “tsunami” is another example of the way English brings foreign words into common usage.

Tsunami is a Japanese word that is pronounced (t)su NAH mee. “Tsu” means harbor and “nami” means wave, according to Webster’s.

Webster’s defines it as, “ a huge sea wave caused by a great disturbance under the ocean, [such] as a strong earthquake or volcanic eruption.”

In December 2004 a tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed more than 200,00 people. Since it struck the day after Christmas, it is sometimes called the Boxing Day tsunami. It definitely packed a horrifying punch.

The ocean unleashes a mighty fury.


Musing on metaphor

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bobby Wolff chose to pay tribute to a fellow bridge enthusiast today with a stanza from “O Captain! My Captain!”

Written in 1865, Walt Whitman’s poem mourned the death of Abraham Lincoln, our country’s 16th president. Lincoln was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, just days after the Confederates surrendered.

The poem uses extended metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is used as a direct comparison to something else. Webster’s gives the phrases “curtain of night” and “all the world’s a stage” as examples. Unlike simile, metaphor does not use the words “like” or ”as.”

Extended metaphor means that comparisons are used repeatedly in a written work.

The meaning of these metaphorical words and phrases will aid in understanding the poem:

Captain (President Lincoln)

Fearful trip (the Civil War)

The ship (the ship of state, the nation)

Weathered every rack (survived every hardship)

The prize (peace between the North and South)

Vessel (again the ship of state, the nation)

Bells, flag, bugle, bouquets and wreathes (signs of celebration that the war has ended)

Ship is anchored (The Union has been restored)

Here is the entire poem:

O Captain, My Captain!

O Captain my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You've fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

I appreciated this poem much more after seeing Dennis Boggs’ portrayal of Lincoln at the fifth annual Chautauqua in September at Cross Orchards Historical Site. In character, Boggs reminisced about his difficulties in finding a good general to lead the Union army.  He gave a powerful performance.

Out of character, Boggs found himself reminiscing on his own life after an audience member asked what his background was. “Oh, I was afraid you’d ask that,” he said. He explained that he was a high-school dropout and paid the price for that decision for many years.

He finally got his diploma in his late thirties and became interested in community theatre. Through that experience he studied Lincoln and then began to portray him. He now appears as “Honest Abe” all over the country.

Boggs told the children in the audience that is their responsibility to get an education. Parents and teachers are there to help, he said, but the primary responsibility must reside within individual learners. In other speaking engagements, Boggs has told young audiences that he represents the past, but they represent the future.

The future of the “victor ship” does indeed lie in the hands of our youth. Here’s hoping that everyone in public schools makes the most of a free education in a free country.  As Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen noted, "A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm." 

Photo of Abraham Lincoln courtesy of Wikipedia


Hot water, cool music

By Debra Dobbins
Monday, October 25, 2010

A couple of words in the cutline (caption) above caught my eye.

A cauldron (also spelled caldron) is a large kettle suitable for boiling water and, er, creepier contents when a witch uses it. The word comes from an ancient Roman word meaning a room for taking hot baths.

A carillon is a “set of stationary bells … usually sounded by means of a keyboard,” according to Webster’s. Many carillons actually look like towers dominating the skyline of towns and cities around the world.

To get a better idea of the beauty of the carillon mentioned in the caption above, go to http://www.carillon-rees.org. In the meantime, here’s a shot of a traveling carillon, taken at the Colorado Renaissance Fair in 2008:

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Photographer: Hustvedt


Page 117 of 132


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