Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Quite improbably, I'm learning Turkish. Indirectly, that's why I started thinking about the word "turkey". I would have guessed that the bird turkey and the country Turkey are only incidentally related, but it turns out that's not true.

According to Wikipedia, when British colonists first came to America they mistook the native bird for guinea fowls. The guinea fowl came to Europe from Madagascar via Turkey. Apparently, this led to people calling them something like the Turkey cock or the Turkey hen, and eventually just turkeys. The turkeys we know here, though, originate in Mexico. The wild version may look like the domesticated kind, but having run across a wild version in the streets of San Rafael, where my sister lives, they seem very powerful creatures. Big, too.  In fact, I just pulled back from the fog of memory that I did a blog post about a great documentary on a man who lived with turkeys. You can find my post about it HERE.

And here are some fun facts you can learn about turkeys, over at British Turkey. Now, one of the things that comes up there as well as at the Online Etymology Dictionary is that turkey soon made its way into British fare, even as early as the 1530s. I hadn't really thought about this before, but it had to be a luxury item, at least initially, coming as it did all the way from America. And yet, by 1575, it was standard fare for Christmas dinner, pricey or not. I seemed to remember that the subject of turkey came up in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, which was why it was particularly gratifying to find this post at realbook.com on the subject of Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the Question of Turkey or Goose.

The turkey is an ancient bird of the Americas. I'm happy to include here a video about the Turkey Dance from the Caddo people of the region now known as Oklahoma. I think as Americans, we tend to think of turkeys as just dumb luckless food, but they have inspired the oldest dance on this continent and perhaps we should find a new appreciation for the bird.

Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the Question of Turkey or Goose - See more at: http://realbook.com/article/dickens-christmas-carol-and-question-turkey-or-goose#sthash.bodrGHVs.dpuf
Dickens' A Christmas Carol and the Question of Turkey or Goose - See more at: http://realbook.com/article/dickens-christmas-carol-and-question-turkey-or-goose#sthash.bodrGHVs.dpuf

And here's a link to a site about Caddo dance in general.

The real reason I got into all this, though? It was because I was surprised by the name for turkey in Turkey.

It's hindi. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary:

The Turkish name for it is hindi, literally "Indian," probably influenced by Middle French dinde (c. 1600, contracted from poulet d'inde, literally "chicken from India," Modern French dindon), based on the then-common misconception that the New World was eastern Asia. 

When it comes to turkeys, no one's taking credit, apparently. But maybe it's high time they should.

Friday, June 26, 2015

M.O. "Wishful Thinking" results and Flash Flood Fiction Day

Sorry to be straying so far off track here these days, but I thought I'd mention a couple of things that I actually know something about. The first is that the results of the M.O. Wishful Thinking contest have come in, and though I didn't win I still enjoyed the process and am glad I took part. I'll post a link to the winning story here I think on the 10th, but if I get sidetracked you can always check in over there.

Meanwhile, though, a friend happened to mention the Flash Flood Fiction Day coming up on Saturday (tomorrow) at Flash Flood Journal, and I somehow managed to write something up quick and get it in in time to be published there. They tell me it ought to be up at about 2 PM British Summer Time (BST) or 6AM California time, as near as I can reckon. So look for "The Rival", or just check out the website and see what everyone's come up with. I know that's what I'll be doing. The maximum word count is 500 words, so these will be short pieces for your delectation.

Now that the story's up, I am adding the link to mine, per request: "The Rival"

Kids, don't try this at home.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

I've got a story on the short list at Criminal Element's The M.O.

I learned a couple of days ago that a short story I wrote made it to the final four at The M.O. over at Criminal Element and yesterday they put the beginning of these four stories up on their website. I like a couple of things about this contest. First of all, they come up with good themes to work with--the last one was "Long Gone" and this time it was "Wishful Thinking". They are broad enough yet specific enough to get your imagination working. I wanted to write something for this latest one, but I had a really hard time coming up with an idea. I had to think a lot about what wishful thinking actually is.

The second thing I like about the contest is that they post the beginnings of the stories and then people get to vote on which one they'd like to read all the way through. There are a couple of possible problems with this idea, of course. First, the story with the best start might not be the one with the best ending, but they are pretty short, so I guess if you haven't whetted a reader's appetite out of the gate, you probably haven't quite succeeded anyway. The other thing, though, is that it's possible the winner will just be the person with the best social media platform. I did like the story that came out of the last batch very much, though, however it was chosen. That was S.W. Lauden's Fix Me.

So head on over to read the Wishful Thinking candidates. Please just vote for the title you're most intrigued by, it doesn't have to be mine. I got a story out of this, after all, and I can always send it on to other likely places. And do check out the Rogues' Gallery, where you will find a very misleading photograph implying that I actually ride a bicycle. Wishful thinking indeed. If you click on one of the links there, you are likely to find yourself right back here where you began.

They'll be announcing another theme soon, so why not sign up over there and give it a go?

Friday, June 12, 2015


Although I hate being harangued--who doesn't?--I love the word itself. Nevertheless, I have no idea where the word comes from or really what it specifically means. I think of it as being a kind of extended nagging. It sounds to me like it comes from someplace exotic, but maybe it's from Spanish or French. Anyway, we're about to find out.

Vocabulary.com has a pretty nice definition of the word:

"A harangue is more than a speech, louder than a discussion, and nastier than a lecture. It is a verbal attack that doesn't let up, delivered as a verb or received as a noun. Either way it's pretty unpleasant."

There's a lengthy list of synonyms: :tirade, diatribe, lecture, polemic, rant, fulmination, broadside, attack, onslaught--all pretty great words in themselves. The emphasis seems to be on the length and aggression of the speech, and to some extent it's public nature. Also, perhaps, on its excessiveness and unpleasantness. People may say, that was a great rant, but I don't think they'd normally say, what a fine harangue. 

But apparently harangue came out of a more neutral context. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word or at least a variant of it seems to have come to Scotland as arang (mid fifteenth century) before England (around 1600). In Middle French, a harangue simply meant a public address and came from the Old Italian aringo, which wasn't even about the speech but referred to a public square, platform, pulpit or arena. And the general idea seems to be that this in turn is taken from an older German word, hring (circle) "with an -a- inserted to ease Romanic pronunciation of Germanic hr-", or maybe even a postulated compound like *hariring, which would mean host-ring or army-ring. 

"Lucius Martius, Roman knight, haranguing his soldiers."
 Although if you're an American, you may think the harangue is protected by our right to free speech, there is one place according to this article from last year where you would be wrong. And that's the Supreme Court. The U.S. Code puts it this way:

"Unlawful to discharge a firearm, firework or explosive, set fire to a combustible, make a harangue or oration, or utter loud, threatening or abusive language in the Supreme Court Building or grounds."

 Best  not to go panhandling around there either.

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/02/26/219437/a-supreme-court-harangue-that.html#storylink=cpy


Monday, June 1, 2015


I happened to be watching Rachel Maddow on the FIFA scandal a few days ago. It developed that one of the tabloids  had scooped the more, what, staid?, traditional?, thorough? newspapers with a report some time ago on Chuck Blazer, "ex-U.S. Soccer Executive and FIFA bigwig"--and confidential informant,  according to the Daily Mail. In the process of telling the story, Rachel took some obvious glee in reading aloud some of the somewhat over the top descriptions of the man and his lavish lifestyle.

It got me wondering, what exactly is a tabloid? I mean, I know what tabloids are in general, but how does a newspaper set itself on the road to becoming one? Do its editors decide that they want to go the sensationalist route or does it just happen? I decided to dig deeper into the tabloid and its many, possibly lurid, mysteries.

I had thought that tabloid might somehow be related to table, as in printer's table or some other old-fashioned tool. It turned out I was far afield. "Tabloid" derives from tablet, and it has an interesting past. The tablet in question was the kind we take as medicine. It was originally trademarked by a company called Burroughs, Wellcome and Co., which was actually a couple of young American pharmacists who were innovators of their day. (I thought this was rather a quaint old name, but was surprised to learn that their legacy survives to this day in the form of such entities as the Burroughs Wellcome Fund ) The word was used to describe a small tablet which contained a compressed version of its chemicals or drugs couple of trusts funds, This was in 1884, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, but apparently, the word Tabloid was so well received (and you thought they didn't have market research in the 1880s) that they added the name to a lot of other things, like Tabloid tea, photography kits and first aid kits, or so we are told by the Science Museum of London. By 1898 tabloid had already gone through that cool expansion of meaning that words so frequently do, so that tabloid began to be understood as meaning the condensed form of anything. Burroughs, Wellcome and Co. went to court to try and stop the widespread adoption of the word, but in 1903 a judge ruled against them, saying that the word had passed into common usage. That bridge safely passed, tabloid journalism could not be far behind.

In 1901, the term was first used in print by a man with another resonant and hopefully not too accurate name, Alfred C. Harmsworth. He was the proprietor and editor of the London Daily Mail at the time. He issued a periodical called The World, apparently because of a challenge by one Mr. Pulitzer and he was thinking of a new form of media for a new century. Harmsworth's words:

"The world enters today upon the twentieth or time-saving century. I claim that by my system of condensed or tabloid journalism hundreds of working hours can be saved each year."

That is what I learned from the Online Etymology Dictionary, but it's actually a bit more interesting than that. I happened to find a fuller account online from an ebook called Tabloid Tales: Global Debates Over Media Standards edited by Colin Sparks and John Tulloch. Tulloch writes a chapter called "The Eternal Recurrence of New Journalism" in which he tells the story of this first tabloid. The World was actually only a single issue phenomenon, and it was launched on January 1st, 1901. Joseph Pulitizer had challenged his friend the English Harmsworth to come edit his paper the New York based Daily World for one day, and Harmsworth took up the challenge by throwing a New Year's Party and having the staff dress up in evening wear while they put the paper together. According to the quote at the top, Harmsworth moved constantly through the newsroom, enjoining the writers to "Keep it down, gentlemen! No story of more than two hundred and fifty words!"

According to Tulloch, this first tabloid was a publicity stunt. But it was also partaking of a prevailing spirit of the era which was a preoccupation with efficiency and saving time. "All the news in Sixty Seconds" was a subtitle of Harmsworth's editorial, and he wasn't kidding.

It's too bad he didn't live to see the age of Twitter. 

Portrait of Alfred Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Northcliffe

I haven't really addressed my initial questions here, but again according to Tulloch, there were two models of journalism even so far back as the 1890s and, I assume, before. You can read the chapter, but the argument in it is that one model is about telling stories and entertaining, and the other is about decontextualized information. You can see how the tabloid format, with it's simpler format, pictures and short pieces might lend itself more to the former type of newspaper than the latter.