As you likely know, Terry and I are big fans of The Kitchen on the Food Network. We enjoy the hints and tips offered as much as we do the recipes. Sometimes more.

spiral1On a recent episode early in the new year they demonstrated two vegetable spiral cutters, and showed how one can use the resulting spiralized vegetables in place of pasta for spaghetti. We both liked the idea. As it happened we had a rewards gift card available from one of our credit card accounts, and our practice is to use such cards for fun stuff spiral2rather than for everyday purchases. So I ordered a gift card from Bed Bath & Beyond.

When it arrived we headed over to our local store, and found a couple of gadgets that did just that sort of thing. We bought the one that appeared to be better made and brought it home. I had stir fry planned for that evening, and so rather than slicing the zucchini, I spiralized it. spiral3We were both delighted. I am not a big zucchini fan, but when you do stir fry you need veggies of some kind, and zucchini is as good of a choice as any. And cut so thin, the zucchini was very tasty. We both enjoyed it a lot.

Next we’ll try doing the spaghetti thing. We’re looking forward to it.

Star Wars after 38 years

It is hard to believe that the latest Star Wars movie appeared more than thirty-eight years after the original (May 1977 → December 2015). I was twenty-three at the time. I had little interest in seeing the movie and in any case I was busy getting ready to leave my beloved Claremont for the unknowns of Laredo, Texas. I was an employee of B.Dalton Bookseller, and I was getting my first manager’s gig, opening up the new store in Laredo. My section of the mall was the first to open. Later that summer the section of the mall containing the multiplex opened, and the first batch of movies included the original Star Wars. I was hooked. I saw it multiple times while I was playing there.

Now here I am at sixty-two and the first episode from Disney has arrived. Terry and I avoided Star ForceAwakensWars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens during its opening weeks, but we saw it last Friday after the crowds had dissipated.  My take: Harrison Ford was great. I loved Daisy Ridley. I don’t know why people were complaining about how Carrie Fisher looked. I thought she looked perfect in the role. Bottom line, though: it was too much of a fan flick for me. There were too many scenes that were simply remakes of the original three movies. I mean, really, [*spoiler alert!*] did the confrontation between Han Solo and Kylo Ren have to take place on a narrow catwalk above a deep chasm?

But you know what? I might well see the next movie. I would like to see more of Daisy Ridley’s character. Where did Rey get the powers of the Force? Is she, as my nephew and I suspect, Luke Skywalker’s daughter? And as my nephew said, there has to be more to Fenn’s story. There are unanswered questions there.

And so it goes in the Star Wars world.

as the Anglican world turns

…with a hat-tip to Susan Russell for that most apt phrase.

If you don’t follow the world of the Episcopal Church on Facebook or other social media, you nonetheless have likely seen news reports about the meeting of Anglican Primates (the head bishops of all the constituent member churches of the world-wide Anglican Communion) at Canterbury last week and heard or read about its outcome.

In short, while the Primates stated that they “condemn homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation,” they nonetheless also sanctioned the Episcopal Church in the United States for its approval of same-sex marriage last year. They declared that “for a period of three years The Episcopal Church [shall] no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

What does that mean? Probably not a lot. Susan, in a blog post from which I drew heavily for this one, quotes Episcopal priest Tobias Haller, who states that the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) “is the only legally constituted ‘instrument’ of the whole Communion,” and that the Primates have no legal authority over that body.

Episcopal House of Deputies president Gay Clark Jennings wrote: “I want to assure you that nothing about what the primates have said will change the actions of General Convention that have, over the past four decades, moved us toward full inclusion and equal marriage. And regardless of the primates’ vote, we Episcopalians will continue working with Anglicans across the globe to feed the hungry, care for the sick, educate children, and heal the world.”

She echoed Tobias Haller’s statement about the ACC: “However, the primates do not have authority over the Anglican Consultative Council, the worldwide body of bishops, clergy and lay people that facilitates the cooperative work of the churches of the Anglican Communion.”

Susan Russell stated clearly the feelings many of us have about this whole episode:

quoteThere’s a lot of work ahead – but today I’m proud and grateful that being considered second class Anglicans is a price we are willing to pay to treat God’s beloved LGBT people as first class Christians.

I leave the final word, however, to our marvelous and inspiring Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in the video below.

Sacred Music Friday: El Shaddai

the Amy Grant classic El Shaddai, along with Thy Word, if you’d like to keep watching

dictionaries: prescriptive and descriptive

I delivered this talk at Toastmasters last Thursday. This is the original text I wrote out before delivering the talk with minimal notes.

Hot buttons. We all have our hot buttons. And it’s hard to know what someone’s hot button might be.

But some things ought not to get one’s knickers in a knot, to switch metaphors. For example, dictionaries. Why would people get exercised about dictionaries? You’d be surprised.

I am one of those, in fact, who gets excited about dictionaries.

In the 1960’s there was quite a battle between those who believed in a prescriptive approach to dictionaries and those who believed in a descriptive approach. By the time I have completed my talk today I hope you will understand what dictionary aficionados mean by these two terms, and I hope that you will appreciate that the distinction is not quite as distinct as many of those folks would like you to believe.

In theory a descriptive dictionary tells you how language is used, and a prescriptive dictionary tells you how language should be used. Would it were that simple.

First a little history. The G. & C. Merriam Co. acquired the rights to Noah Webster’s groundbreaking dictionary of American English after his death 1843 and built upon his work. In 1890 they published Webster’s International Dictionary and in 1909 Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition.

So far, so good.

But Webster’s Third New International Dictionary was published in 1961. Not only is 52 years a long time, but the concept of Webster’s Third was very different from its predecessors. Many people did not like what they saw.

Before Webster’s Third many American dictionaries were a hodge-podge of information. As David Skinner said in his book The Story of Ain’t, a dictionary might include an international directory of history’s big shots, every character in Western literature, epithets and literary allusions, and misinformed rules of grammar that have no basis in actual usage. Skinner’s words, not mine.
But Webster’s Third editor Philip Gove wanted a reference that described word usage, again to quote Skinner, in all of its spoken variety. That was Gove’s guiding principle behind Webster’s Third. He wanted a descriptive dictionary.

When Webster’s Third was published people were aghast that it included the word ain’t. The furor was made worse by Merriam-Webster’s own PR department which in a press release proudly pointed out that the dictionary included that word. It failed to state that there was a usage note that read: “disapproved by many and more common in less educated speech.”

Press release aside, Webster’s Third quickly gained a bad reputation in various circles. Ain’t was simply the poster child for the purists representing all of the so-called ‘nonstandard” words in Webster’s Third.

James Parton at the publishing house American Heritage considered buying the Merriam-Webster company so he could right those wrongs. That never happened, but American Heritage did publish its own dictionary in 1969 in conjunction with Houghton Mifflin. American Heritage represented itself, or at least was represented as, the prescriptive alternative to the Webster descriptive approach. That is, it was said, American Heritage described how words should be used.

To be sure, the American Heritage Dictionary called out usage notes much more visibly than Webster’s Third. They even developed a usage panel, which voted on the acceptability of the usage of certain words. For example, the traditional meaning of the word hopefully is “in a hopeful manner.” The first chapter of Paul Theroux’s trailblazing travelogue, The Great Railway Bazaar is entitled “Traveling Hopefully.” Today we frequently use the word in the sense of “Hopefully the traffic will not be too bad tomorrow.” American Heritage will tell you what percentage of the usage panel considers the second usage acceptable. The current edition of the American Heritage, the fifth, which is available online and as an iOS app in addition to print, tells us that in 1999 the second usage was acceptable to 34 percent of the usage panel, while in 2012 63 percent accepted it.

I have to admit that I have been an American Heritage partisan since it came out. During the eight or so years I sold books for B. Dalton you could see my influence in the sales reports of the various stores I worked at or managed, as American Heritage sales increased in those stores at the expense of the Merriam-Webster New Collegiate.

So, American Heritage is the good prescriptive dictionary and Merriam-Webster dictionaries are the bad descriptive dictionaries, right?

Well no. Not really.

Remember that Webster’s Third did include that usage note on ain’t. The current Merriam-Webster dictionary online has a very long usage note about the word ain’t and describes how it is often used for emphasis in informal journalistic writing.

As for American Heritage, when author Steven Pinker asked the current editor how the team decided what goes into the dictionary, he said, “We pay attention to the way people use language.” That’s it. Sounds much like Gove’s philosophy, doesn’t it?

So, really, the whole descriptive – prescriptive debate is much ado about nothing.

The bottom line: find yourself a dictionary that you like and use it when you need to. Or, if you’re a word nerd like me, bookmark multiple online dictionaries in your Web browser and refer to them frequently.

buying books

When my family returned to Hemet from our three-year sojourn to Barstow I was in the fourth grade. It was the very beginning of the fourth quarter. I quickly discovered a marvelous program that we didn’t have in Barstow. Every so often we got a catalog from Scholastic Books. The books listed were all paperback and very inexpensive. We brought our order sheet and our money to the teacher who consolidated everything and sent the order in. When the books arrived the teacher distributed the books and we got to take them home.

paperbackstacksBetter yet, there was a summer program where we could send in our order at the end of the school year and the books would arrive at our house for summer reading. Later, I discovered that the science fiction and fantasy paperbacks I read had order forms in the back, and I could send off for books that perhaps my local bookstore, The Hungry Eye, perhaps did not stock.

Today, of course, we have Amazon, and for those with Amazon Prime, the book arrives in two days without a shipping charge. Or for those of us who are Kindle aficionados our books arrive instantly.

It is a very different world from 1963, but the pleasure of a new book showing up, in whatever format, is undiminished.

photo credit: jvoves, Creative Commons license

Mr. Holmes

MrHolmesMr. Holmes
Ian McKellen, Laura Linney
Roadside Attractions, Jul 17, 2015
Rated PG, 104 min
Amazon DVD $14.14, BluRay $16.99

I very rarely write about movies. There’s a good reason for that. I rarely watch a movie. If I recall correctly, the last time I was in a movie theater what when The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a new release in 2012.

I was intrigued, however, when the Los Angeles Times reprinted a summer review of Mr. Holmes in December, presumably to remind the Academy about the movie. Terry and I streamed it via Amazon Instant Video on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. Very well done.

The premise is that Sherlock Holmes was a real person, but that the accounts of his work by Dr. Watson greatly fictionalized and embellished the actual facts of his cases. In the movie Holmes is 93 and has retired to the country as a beekeeper, just as in Arthur Conan Doyle’s account. His memory is failing and he is trying to recall the facts of his final case, which he vaguely remembers he did not solve successfully, contrary to Watson’s depiction.

The cast is small. In addition to Holmes, there is his housekeeper and her son, who is integral to the plot. There is a man in Japan, who invites Holmes to his country in the aftermath of Word War II. We see the man who engages Holmes in his final case, and the man’s wife, about whom the man is suspicious. Holmes’s doctor plays a small but key role.

The movie started slowly, but I became engaged as it moved along. A couple of interesting twists at the climax led to what was for me a satisfying ending.

This is what is called a “small” movie, I suppose, but was well worth the hour and three-quarters I spent watching it.