Collecting the Masses

As I was typing a blog post last week, a tiny red flag flew up the mast in the back of my mind. I ignored it and pressed on toward my writing goal for the day. Fortunately, that small warning kept popping up as I went about business. I don’t know why my mind settled on the word hoard (or was it horde), but I knew I had used it recently only I couldn’t remember where. Making matters worse, after double checking definitions, I realized I had chosen the wrong one.

For two days, I skimmed my memory for how I meant to use it, and that helped me track down the scheduled blog post. Much to my relief, it hadn’t posted yet.

I had chosen hoard when what I meant was horde. Word had completely failed me when it produced neither red, blue, or green squiggles beneath the offending version to prevent my error. The next time I receive a survey from Microsoft during an update, I’m going to request purple squiggles for homonyms, homophones, and homographs. But I digress.

Hoard, the noun, means:

*a stock or store of money or valued objects, typically one that is secret or carefully guarded

“Smaug stood guard over his hoard of treasure.”

*an ancient store of coins or other valuable artifacts

“The search for a hammer resulted in the discovery of the largest hoard of Roman gold coins.”

*an amassed store of useful information or facts, retained for future use

“The NSA has a hoard of stored information about my activities.”

Hoard, the verb, means:

*amass (money or valued objects) and hide or store away

“She hoarded shoes worse than Imelda Marcos.”

*reserve in the mind for future use

“She hoarded every insult against her and plotted her revenge.”

And then there is horde, only a noun and the version I meant to use.

*a large group of people (derogatory)

“The Mongol horde invaded China.”

*a loosely-knit, small social group typically consisting of about five families (Anthropology)

A horde of peasants had lived about five miles outside of the village.

Danny Does Denim

The younger Tedesco brother, Danny, is not known for his success with the ladies. It could have something to do with his perpetually broke-down car (his dates always have to drive), his constant lack of funds (his dates always pay for dinner and entertainment), or his questionable sense of fashion (his only decent suit is made of denim). Fortunately for Danny, his most recent girlfriend is not at all put off by her new beau’s style choices.

Known as the Canadian tuxedo or the Texan tux, Danny’s suit, manufactured by Lee, comes with a lovely matching vest. No doubt Grandma Josephine Tedesco bought the ensemble for him, but whether or not she remembers doing so is another matter.

Keep in mind that a denim jacket (also known as a jean jacket) is a different animal altogether. Denim jackets are a stylish staple in casual wardrobes and enjoy varying degrees of popularity throughout the decades. It’s also commonly worn by those in a more rugged line of work (think cowboys and roughnecks). But when it comes to tailored suits, denim is rarely if ever well received.

The history of the denim suit is short and infamous, and its origins don’t go all that far back. Levi Strauss is credited as the originator of the denim jacket in the 1800s, but the earliest reference to a denim suit that I could find was 1951. A story exists of singer Bing Crosby being denied access to a hotel in Canada because he was dressed from head to toe in denim. Although the was eventually allowed in, Levi’s made him a custom double-breasted denim suit jacket so that he would “never have problems wearing Levi’s jeans, even in fancy establishments.”

The jacket, presented to Crosby at the 1951 Silver State Stampede in Elko, Nevada, contained a leather label on the inside bearing a “Notice to all Hotel Men” stating that denim was acceptable to wear on any occasion. At least Danny is in good company. Bing’s suit now lives in the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.

In 2015, Ralph Lauren took a stab at the denim suit with a hipster and Wall Street version. In my humble opinion, both look like something a demented college student would try to pull off as good fashion sense. I have no doubt CEOs avoided these two suits like the plague they are.

If these denim suits don’t float your boat, you can always opt for one of the two hundred, limited run reproductions of Bing’s jacket that originally went for $1,800.00. I’m sure eBay is stocked with these little goodies.

 

It Didn’t Cost Me a Thing

I remember how much a loaf of bread cost the year my husband and I married. I remember the price of a gallon of gas the year I started driving. I also remember the hourly rate a teenage girl could make babysitting in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, I have never written about any of these things in my novels or short stories.

When I need to know how much something costs for the year during which my story takes place, I can usually find it by Googling. But every now and then, I use an inflation calculator to go backward or forward in time and come up with a price.

Most often, the US Inflation Calculator, which works for prices between the years of 1913 and 2018 (updates to current year), is my go-to source for pricing. In the event I need to tiptoe farther into the past (1800), this Inflation Calculator is my second favorite. It’s not as official, but the site offers some other inflation-related links which may prove to be beneficial.

I know inflation calculators are not new or impressive, but I find them fascinating and most helpful when writing. Besides, nothing is worse than having to stop the flow of writing to research a detail.

Take the Money and Run

It’s Cotton Tail in the lead by three lengths…

You probably think today’s blog post has something to do with The Steve Miller Band song of the same title. You know the one where the lead singer (possibly Steve) throws grammar and rhyme to the wind? Actually, today’s blog post is about the phrase give them a run for their money. I used the phrase in my novel, The Tedescos, when describing the success of a peripheral character’s sisters.

Per the Collins dictionary, if you say that someone could give someone else a run for their money, you mean you think they are almost as good as the other person. Per the Macmillan dictionary, it means to compete very well against someone so that it is hard for them to defeat you. And about the phrase, the Urban dictionary offers the definition to challenge someone.

Other websites dealing with phrase origin claim that the saying came from horse racing where one wants a run for his money. This means he wants a horse upon which a bet has been placed to participate in the race. If the horse withdraws from the race after bets are placed, the bettor does not get a run for his money.

Also going along with the horse racing theme, to give someone a run for their money is to give a good race (even if you don’t win) in return for their backing. The definition suggests a challenge, and it is in keeping with the definition presented in the Urban dictionary.

The Oxford English Dictionary agrees that the phrase originated with horse racing and suggests that it could be used in a figurative or extended sense to mean any sort of challenge whether or not money is spent. The OED supplied the earliest usage of the phrase that I could find.

“1874 Slang Dict. 274 To have a run for one’s money is also to have a good determined struggle for anything.”

It has also been suggested that the phrase originated with the British style of hunting where one chases animals with hounds but doesn’t shoot them with guns. (Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the fox die at the end of these hunts? I’ve watched enough BBC shows to know Brits use guns to kill animals. But I digress.)

Supposedly, if an area of the country wasn’t well stocked with animals to kill, a hunting party had to purchase a fox or stag to set free so they could chase it. The purchase of an animal to hunt added to the already high costs of hunting (good horse, proper riding clothes, and correct footwear) but was considered to be worth it if you had a good run for your money. It all sounds so civil. I wonder if they recycled the fox or stag.

I used the phrase when describing the rate at which my peripheral character’s sisters supplied grandchildren. The sisters gave rabbits (well known to be prolific producers of progeny) a run for their money, and yet the challenge wasn’t really for rabbits.

If you are at all familiar with a grandparent’s desire for grandchildren, you know that more than a simple challenge was presented. The gauntlet was thrown down at the feet of their childless sister. I expanded the definition to show an elevated level of aggression. Wouldn’t it be lovely if this additional aspect was added to the definition of the phrase with the line from my novel cited as the first usage?

Who’s Your Momma?

Shirley Tedesco has her hands full with eight children ranging in age from five to sixteen, but she loves being a mother. She’s also very practical about the whole endeavor and readily distributes hugs or spanks as needed to keep her brood of eight angels/hoodlums in line. In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” Shirley is feeling like less of a mother than she normally does. Her husband, Joe, knows she’s experiencing a bout of the blues, and his heart breaks for her. Joe springs into action with a Mother’s Day celebration sure to lift Shirley’s spirits and quite possibly earn him some points.

While writing, I knew that Mother’s Day had been established long before the year during which my novel took place, but the research provided some interesting history with which I’d like to honor mothers everywhere.

One of the earliest example of celebrating mothers came about with the Christian festival known as “Mothering Sunday.” This holiday fell on the fourth Sunday during Lent, and it was once a major tradition in England and parts of Europe. Faithful church attenders would return to their “mother church” (the main church nearest their home) for a special service.

Over time, Mothering Sunday became a more secular holiday. Children began presenting their mother’s with small tokens of appreciation or flowers. This custom started to fade in popularity, but it eventually merged with the American version of honoring mothers, Mother’s Day, in the 1930s and 1940s.

In America, the origins of Mother’s Day date back to the 19th century. Prior to the Civil War, Ann Reeves Jarvis, a resident of West Virginia, helped start the “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” in an effort to teach proper childcare to local women. Later, the clubs served as a unifying force in areas of the country still divided by the Civil War. In 1868, Jarvis promoted reconciliation between mothers of Union and Confederate soldiers by organizing “Mothers’ Friendship Day.”

Julia Ward Howe, an abolitionist and suffragette, also provided an important aspect to what would become the modern Mother’s Day. In 1870, Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation.” Her call to action asked mothers to unite in promoting world peace. In 1873, she campaigned for a “Mother’s Peace Day” to be celebrated every June 2.

Anna Jarvis, daughter of Ann Reeves Jarvis, was instrumental in promoting the official Mother’s Day holiday in the 1900s. After her mother’s death in 1905, Anna Jarvis regarded Mother’s Day as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children.

John Wanamaker, a Philadelphia department store owner, provided financial backing for Anna Jarvis allowing her to organize the first official Mother’s Day celebration in 1908 at a Methodist church in Grafton, West Virginia. Thousands of people also attended a Mother’s Day event at one of Wanamaker’s retail stores in Philadelphia.

Anna Jarvis, who never married or had children, started a massive letter writing campaign to newspapers and influential politicians in an effort to have Mother’s Day added to the national calendar. By 1912, many states, towns, and churches had adopted Mother’s Day as an annual holiday, and Anna Jarvis established the Mother’s Day International Association to assist with promoting her cause. Her perseverance paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson signed a measure to officially establish the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

There is no set way to honor and celebrate mothers and motherhood. My experience has been that small, private celebrations or those grounded in faith touch a mother’s heart the most. It isn’t about what you can give to and/or do for your mother; it’s about maintaining the relationship throughout the year, and then taking one special day a year to say an extra “I love you.”

The Buzz About Last Names

Making the last name of the family in my novel, The Tedescos, plural was quite easy. I simply added an S to their name when speaking or writing about the entire clan. And then I assigned one character the last name Roberts and decided to write about his family as well. Time to apply “The Joneses Rule.”

Of course this isn’t the official title of the grammar rule; it’s just my way of remembering that when I make a last name ending in S plural, I add –es. The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage as well as many grammar websites agree with this practice.

Then there is the annoying little pronunciation rule that pops up every now and then. If a last name ending in S sounds like a Z, as in Jones, one shouldn’t add the –es. A trick to determining this is to place your hand on your throat, say the name aloud, and see if you can feel your throat buzzing. Really? We’re supposed to trust proper grammar to the buzzing in our throats? This is made doubly ridiculous because sites that uphold this rule still say that Jones should be Joneses when making the name plural.

Here’s my advice: play it safe by trashing the buzzing rule, be consistent in your writing, and add –es to any last name ending in S. Regional dialects pronounce names differently, and it’s too difficult to pin down whether a name is ending in an S sound or a Z sound.

La Cucina Povera

In the chapter of my novel, The Tedescos, titled “Soul Food,” the family attends church on Mother’s Day with their good friends, The Robertses. After the service, the Tedesco Clan is invited to attend a meal in the church fellowship hall. The men and boys prepared the meal they will serve to the mothers to honor them. Much of the food the Tedescos encounter is familiar, but one dish in particular initiates a conversation between Joe Jr. and Tabitha and Tonya Roberts and results in the explanation of ‘la cucina povera.’

The Italian phrase literally means the poor kitchen, and it is a style of cooking familiar among the lower classes (think peasants) of a particular society. Often, peasants had to cook with whatever they had on hand whether it came from the kitchen or the farm. The ‘poor kitchen’ can be found in every society. The great thing about this concept is that some really delicious recipes emerged from the simple, high-quality ingredients that were available.

Attempting to cook in the style of ‘la cucina povera’ may earn you a laugh especially from an older person who lived through the war in Italy. They may refuse to acknowledge ‘the poor kitchen’ style and argue that it was simply the preparation of the food they had on hand. Americans, with all their varied food choices and easy access to said food, have a tendency to romanticize a style of cooking that was a part of basic survival. Still, I can think of several recipes in which my family indulges that found their way into my writing because of my love to feed people whether real or imagined. Many cookbooks featuring this style of food have been published, and I highly recommend you try one or two meals from them if you’ve never encountered peasant cooking.

Beans and cornbread, cabbage and noodles, and soup made from some combination of vegetables are the types of peasant food I grew up with. I never knew that what we ate was considered to be from ‘the poor kitchen’ because the adults who prepared it for me cooked with love and made everything taste wonderful. Delicious, simple food is usually the tastiest, and in the end, that’s really what it’s all about. What does your family enjoy from ‘la cucina povera?’

Ancient Canine Proverb

Sister Mary Agnes is a peripheral character in my novel, The Tedescos, but she is one of importance as she lends emotional and spiritual support to the Tedesco Family. In a chapter where she and Shirley Tedesco are at the hospital waiting for a very important outcome, the nun asks Shirley if they should go check on the men meaning Joe and his friends. Shirley replies, “Nah, let sleeping dogs lie.” The phrase means to avoid interfering in a situation that is currently stable, and Shirley certainly didn’t want Joe and company hovering around and mucking things up.

The expression is based on the observation that dogs are often unpredictable when they are startled awake. What started out as a warning about the risk of waking a potentially dangerous animal became metaphorical. The ‘leave well enough alone’ proverb has evolved from the days of Geoffrey Chaucer (“It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.” – Troilus and Criseyde, circa 1380) and John Heywood (“It is euill waking of the slepyng dog.” – A Dialogue Prouerbes English Tongue, 1546) into more modern versions including ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

There is also a legend that credits 18th century British politician Sir Robert Walpole with the proverb, claiming that it was also his motto. Apparently, the saying does not appear in Walpole’s published writings nor does record exist of him ever saying it. Perhaps he applied some version of the phrase to his political policy, but that’s as far as he and the phrase go although a lovely little cartoon of Sir Robert exists based on the proverb.

As serious as this explanation sounds, Joe and his buddies wouldn’t have responded as a vicious dog would, but their presence still wasn’t required by the ladies.

Don’t Have a Heart Attack

You know how it is. You’re typing away in Word, and maybe you truly aren’t aware of the difference or maybe you just made a typo, but in either case the blue squiggles have shown up under one or two words. I don’t often experience the blue squiggles. I’m familiar with the red (misspelled word) and the green (fragment). But when I see the blue squiggles, I know something is wrong.

It happened recently when I typed the word anymore. Making anymore into two words solved the problem, but I couldn’t let this correction go without re-familiarizing myself with the why behind it. Never hurts to brush up on my grammar, not to mention it makes a great blog post for The Weight of Words.

Any more and anymore have related meanings, but they are not interchangeable. How you use it will determine whether you type or write it as one word or two. Any more deals with quantities such as:

Would you like any more cookies?

Anymore is an adverb and has to do with time:

I don’t like cookies anymore.

A quick check to see if you need the single-word version is if you can switch it for the word nowadays. One source claimed this usage to be unacceptable in formal writing and quite rare, however, I believe it would add flair to one’s writing whether in the prose or as dialog. I also am a great proponent for keeping alive interesting words deemed archaic.

Another interesting fact regarding anymore vs. any more is that the traditional though less common spelling was as two separate words: any more. Apparently, in the last fifty years, anymore has increased in use giving rise to the one-word and two-word spellings, distinct definitions, and usage.

Monkey Business

Ava Maria Tedesco is a tender-hearted girl of thirteen. While she knows that stuffed animals aren’t real, she can’t quite help but extend to them the same compassion she showers on animals, people in need of prayer, sometimes her siblings, and always her parents, Grandma Josephine, and Sister Mary Agnes. One of Ava’s favorite stuffed animals is Mr. Monkey. Unfortunately for Ava, her older sister, Katherine, knows this. Katherine only meant to kidnap Mr. Monkey for a short time to torment her younger sister, but when she hides the rubber-face stuffed toy in their mother’s dryer, all does not end well.

I based Ava Maria’s favorite stuffed toy on one I had as a child. In fact, Freddie is still packed away in my basement with all my other childhood stuffed toys even as I type. I don’t know where I obtained Freddie or how that came to be his name. I just remember being fascinated by his rubbery face, hands (one of which holds a banana), and little white shoes. Even before I can remember, one of Freddie’s shoes somehow became slightly detached from his hairy legs and had to be safety pinned in place.

When I researched the doll for my novel, The Tedescos, I came across pictures of the one I had as well as one with the word Zip on the front of his yellow shirt. The Zip doll was the representation of the actual chimpanzee, Zippy, who was a television star in the 1950s. Zippy had been discovered by Bob “Buffalo Bob” Smith of Howdy Doody fame, and the chimp appeared on the show. Zippy also appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, Captain Kangaroo, Gary Moore Show, and Jackie Gleason Show.

The Ruston Company made the Zip stuffed doll in response to Zippy’s popularity on Howdy Doody. Howdy Doody ran from 1947 until 1960, and while I have yet to find documentation supporting this fact, either The Rushton Company continued to produce the popular stuffed doll long into the 1970s (my childhood) or children took extremely good care of their toys. Another possibility allowing the doll to make it into the 1970s is what I call ‘the knock-off’ factor in which Zip lookalikes, such as the one I have, were produced well beyond the demise of the Howdy Doody show. Columbia appears on the tag of some of these dolls identifying them as made by another toy manufacturer.

My version of the rubber-faced monkey doll is apparently known as Mr. Bim, and he may or may not be holding a banana, have red suspenders or black pompom buttons, and have yellow or white fur representing a shirt. In 1984, Dakin produced an updated version of the Zip doll.

In addition to the stuffed monkey dolls I’ve described above, there are a whole host of monkeys in other colors of fur, with or without hats, some with different facial configurations, and more. So while my Freddie and Ava Maria’s Mr. Monkey might not be original Zip dolls, they are no less loved.

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