Tag Archives: Books

The Wednesday Word – License Plate

License Plate: noun – A rectangular, usually metal plate that bears a sequence of numbers, letters, or both and is issued by a government to identify an officially registered vehicle.

There are a lot of hawks where I live. When they’re off duty, I see them soaring majestically over the fields and forests. More often, though, I find them hard at work gathering information for their upcoming collaboration, The Ultimate Guide to Personalized License Plates in North America: A Bird’s Eye View. Perfectly suited to researching this massive joint undertaking, they are unfazed by poor weather as they spend hours perched next  to busy roadways atop light standards, or on fence posts and sturdy tree branches, observing the passing traffic. The hawks use their sharp eyesight (suddenly the phrase eagle-eyed seems offensive) to find the funniest and most original plates to include in their collection. (You’ve probably seen them working in your area as part of their attempt to encompass all of North America.) When they find a license plate worth noting they, well, I don’t actually know how they pass along the information; I’m hoping the details of the book’s production will be explained in its prologue.

Esteemed writer?

The Ultimate Guide may be the first of many books to be authored by the hawk community. With their wonderful powers of observation, it should be easy for them to produce several volumes just from their notes gathered while researching license plates. Perhaps we will soon see The Bizarre Driving Habits of Humans and Spectacular Crashes Annual. For some lighter reading there could be the anecdotal collections Honestly Officer, the Light Was Yellow and Sign? What Sign? For an overview of everything the hawks have learned, there will be the Field Guide to the Humans of North America. This book — another species’ study of human cultures and interaction — could be a real eye-opener for us. And then, of course, there will be The Secret Life of Humans … you might want to be a little more aware of your open curtains.

But first up will be The Ultimate Guide to Personalized License Plates. I admit that it’s unlikely I’ll buy the book, but I’ll definitely borrow it from the local library. It will be very interesting to see the results of this enormous undertaking.

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What’s in a Vampire Name?

Contrary to popular belief, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was not named after Vlad the Impaler. It is believed that Bram Stoker would have known very little about Vlad, “certainly not enough to have been inspired to base Count Dracula on him.” In fact, Stoker discovered the name Dracula in an old book with a footnote suggesting it came from a Romanian word for “devil”, which was, obviously, appropriate for his main character. Until then, the name he had in mind for his spooky Count was Wampyr. Yes, the best known vampire in history was almost Wampyr the Vampire.

The 1922 German film Nosferatu stole the story of Dracula and hoped to get away with it by changing the characters’ names, including that of the main character to Count Orlok. The Stoker estate successfully sued the production company for copyright infringement, leaving the company bankrupt and proving that a Dracula by any other name was … well, illegal. (Dracula has always been in the public domain in the United States, but in the United Kingdom and other countries the novel was under copyright until April 1962, fifty years after Stoker’s death.)

Dracula lends itself wonderfully to parodies. The Bugs Bunny cartoon Transylvania 6-5000 features Count Blood Count; Count Duckula is “a little bit Dracula, a little bit Daffy Duck”; Count Chocula has his own cereal; Count Floyd hosted SCTV’s Monster Chiller Horror Theater; and toddler favourite Count von Count lives on Sesame Street and helps his audience learn to count. “They call me the Count because I love to count things!  One friend from Sesame Street, plus one friend from Sesame Street, equals two friends from Sesame Street! Ah, ha, ha!”

In early tales, the starring vampires often had titles, including Sir Francis Varney in the 1847 serial Varney the Vampire, and Lord Ruthven in The Vampyre, 1918.

Anne Rice says her inspiration for the character Lestat de Lioncourt, star of the hugely popular Vampire Chronicles, came largely from her husband, poet and artist Stan Rice. The name Lestat is, or is meant to sound like, an old French name.

Angel, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was once one of the nastiest of the nasty.  He terrorized Europe in the 1700s as Angelus before being cursed with a soul, a punishment designed to make him suffer eternally for his past crimes. The name Angelus is obviously ironic, referencing the handsome demeanour hiding the monster within. As Angel entering the 21st century, the vampire with a soul spent all of his time helping others.

In modern times, vampire names have become less formal, allowing them to fit in with today’s society. The vampires in the recent Twilight series were born in the early 1900s and have simple names from that period: Edward, James, Victoria, etc.

And that brings us to the current American television series True Blood, which features a vampire lead character. Through the last couple of hundred years of vampire fiction we’ve gone from Counts to … Bill.

If your horse or other pet has expressed an interest in getting into character for Halloween, search on-line for vampire names for your dog, horse, etc. and a site will come up – no kidding – with suggestions such as Igor (faithful assistant) and Blade (Tomb of Dracula).

To discover your own vampire name, search for vampire name generators and you’ll find several sites. My vampire name is Karula Drifher. I like it.

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National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month. Last year, close to 120,000 people registered on the NaNoWriMo Web site to take a shot at writing 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. That’s a 175-page novel in 30 days.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to encourage everyone who has ever thought of writing a novel to stop procrastinating and write … something … anything! It doesn’t matter that it likely won’t be award-winning material. It doesn’t even matter – just this once – about grammar and spelling. The only thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output.

NaNoWriMo “is an event for all nations. We’d change the name to ‘International Novel Writing Month,’ but InNoWriMo doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way.”

So if you’ve ever fancied becoming a novelist, November is the month to give 50,000 words a try. 21,683 people successfully completed the challenge  in 2008.



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Great Beginnings

Charles L.P. Silet of The Strand Magazine calls the famous first sentence of Rebecca “one of the great opening lines in English fiction. In one stroke, du Maurier establishes the voice, the locale, and the dream-like atmosphere of the story.”

Rebecca, the suspense novel that made Daphne du Maurier one of the most popular authors of her day, is about a shy paid companion who, while in the French Riviera with her vacationing employer, meets wealthy Maxim de Winter. She and Max fall in love, marry and return to his large country estate in Cornwall to begin their life together. But Max is haunted by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. The second Mrs. de Winter (whose given name is never revealed) soon discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at the estate.

Since its debut in 1938, the novel Rebecca has had a hold on the public. It has been adapted for both the small and large screens several times, with the Alfred Hitchcock version starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier winning the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture.

There are three novels inspired by the original and approved by the du Maurier estate:  Mrs. de Winter, by Susan Hill; The Other Rebecca, by Maureen Freely; and Rebecca’s Tale, by Sally Beauman.

Du Maurier herself adapted Rebecca as a stage play in 1939, and a new musical based on the novel premiered in Vienna in 2006, where it played to sold-out houses for two years. Discussions are under way regarding a possible Toronto run of the musical prior to its openings in New York and London in 2010 or 2011.

And it all started with that great beginning sentence. Did it come back to your mind as you read this, or did you know it all along?

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.


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Part Two

Jay Leno was offering five and six-year-olds the opportunity to finish well-known (by adults) proverbs on The Tonight Show. “People who live in glass houses …” he began, and offered the microphone to a bright young fellow. The Californian youngster promptly responded with the very logical reply “die in earthquakes.”  His answer changed the second half of that proverb (from “shouldn’t throw stones”) for me forever.

Most of us use quotations and proverbs, or slightly reworked versions of the originals. In fact, a lot of what we claim as quotes are actually misquotes. Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake,” Machiavelli didn’t say “the end justifies the means,” and Horace Greeley never made the recommendation to “go west, young man.”

Sherlock Holmes didn’t say “Elementary, my dear Watson,” in any of Conan Doyle’s stories.

No one said “Play it again, Sam” in the movie Casablanca and the closest Captain Kirk came to saying “Beam me up, Scottie” in the original Star Trek television series is “Beam us up, Mr. Scott.”

“Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, topped a list of memorable movie misquotes compiled earlier this year following voting by 1,500 filmgoers. Darth Vader actually said “No, I am your father.”

How many times have you heard a co-worker say “Ours is not to reason why,” usually in reference to a decision made by management and considered stupid by staff? I wonder how many of the speakers even know that the original line is “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

For anyone who is interested in researching accurate quotations, whether for a specific use or just for fun, there are quotation dictionaries available to suit all needs and interests.

It’s such a pleasure to write down splendid words – almost as though one were inventing them.  ~Rupert Hart-Davis

Quotations 3


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Part One

When visiting one of the University of Toronto’s libraries, I discovered a massive dictionary just inside the entrance. I have never seen anything like it. It was huge! All those words, all that knowledge! I gazed in awe at the magnificent tome, displayed reverently on its own pedestal with a light shining down on it from the heavens. There may have been a choir singing… well, that’s how I remember it anyway.

Everyone should have a standard dictionary, or more likely these days, a bookmark for an on-line version, but a quick Google search shows that there are also specialized books with terms specific to just about every profession, hobby or interest imaginable. Following is just a small sampling of dictionaries available for those interested in expanding their English vocabulary.

The Logodaedalian’s Dictionary of Interesting and Unusual Words, by George Stone Saussy. I had to look up the word logodaedalian in a conventional dictionary to discover that it refers to someone who is clever at playing with words. This book, according to the publisher, lists the meanings of difficult and obscure English words, and offers examples of their use from the works of top British and American writers.

One-Letter Words, a Dictionary, by Craig Conley. My first thought was that this must be a very short book, however, according to the description it “illuminates the more than 800 surprising definitions associated with the letters in the English alphabet. For instance, Conley uncovers 69 different definitions for the letter X, the most versatile and printed letter in the English language.”

Knickers in a Twist: a Dictionary of British Slang, by Jonathan Bernstein. After reading this, “at least you’ll be aware that when a British citizen describes you as a ‘wally,’ a ‘herbert,’ a ‘spanner,’ or a ‘bampot,’ he’s not showering you with compliments.”

Magic Words: A Dictionary, by Craig Conley.  According to reviews, “The first 48-pages are utterly fascinating, with Conley an engaging tour guide through literary, philosophical, cultural and spiritual landscapes,” and in the following pages, “magic words taken from literature, plays, movies; all the way from Ovid to Shakespeare to Ronald Hutton to J.K. Rowling.”

KA-BOOM! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia, by Kevin J. Taylor. “Shouldn’t all dictionaries start with AAAA and end with ZZZZZZZTZZZTZZZ? KA-BOOM! does.”

If you’ve been thinking of learning another language, I found three dictionaries of interest.

The Elvish Dictionary, by Ambar Eldaron. J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford academic who was an expert in ancient languages, spent a great deal of time creating his own. He developed two forms of  Elvish, which were integral to the creation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sindarin is based on the sounds of Welsh, and Quenya is related to Finnish. You can buy dictionaries for both. Certainly as spoken in the Lord of the Rings movies, Elvish is a beautiful language. Ni ve sa (I like it.)

The Klingon Dictionary (Star Trek), by Marc Okrand. This book includes a precise pronunciation guide, proper use of affixes and suffixes, conjunctions, exclamations and superlatives, and simple and complex sentence structure, i.e. everything you want in a dictionary. It also contains the Klingon translation and pronunciation of representative phrases such as “activate the transport beam”, and “surrender or die!” Surely a necessity for every home.

Harrap’s Rat Dictionary. No, it’s not about rats; it’s how to speak rat. It includes Rat-English and English-Rat, with over 5,000 references, 80,000 translations and hundreds of new expressions. Here’s a sample entry from the E page: eee [‘ii:i] v. tr. to want; eee ee awp, I want that pea. The book comes with a CD-Rom pronunciation guide with over 80,000 words spoken by…wait a second…trained rat professionals? The book has 1523 pages? Oops, sorry, it’s a hoax. You’ll have to keep waiting for the real thing.


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Great Beginnings – Atlas Shrugged

“He’s the character mentioned in the first line of Atlas Shrugged,” read Alex Trebek. It’s the final Jeopardy question and I know the answer! “Who is John Galt?” I immediately respond. The Jeopardy answer also happens to be the complete opening line of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel.

I read Atlas Shrugged many years ago. Honestly, I don’t know exactly who John Galt is because I don’t remember the details of what happened in the 1000+ paperback pages that follow the memorable opening line. It really was a long time ago that I read the story. I do remember those words, though, and the fact that the question is repeated often throughout the book; it is the reader’s quest to discover the answer.

Based on the question “what if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”, Rand began writing the epic tale, which includes elements of mystery, science fiction, and romance, under the working title The Strike. The final title “symbolizes the book’s plot: the rebellion of the unrecognized and often persecuted creative heroes who bear the rest of the world on their shoulders”.

Atlas Shrugged received generally negative reviews when it was released, but since then it has achieved enduring popularity, selling over six million copies. In January of this year, the novel was No. 33 among Amazon.com’s top-selling books. With those statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t the only home viewer who won final Jeopardy by knowing this book’s opening line. I also surmise that I’m not alone in thinking this is a great beginning:

“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still –as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness with him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.



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