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.

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?

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.

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.

Failing Out Loud

I remember the day I officially launched my writing blog. I went to Facebook and created a post telling everyone where to find me. Then with my finger hovering over the mouse to click post, fear paralyzed me. I realized that from the moment I told everyone I was, and still am, a writer that they would closely watch everything I do. My writing life would be made public. Every success and—gasp—failure would be on display for the entire world to see. It’s no wonder I hesitated.

Then my dear aunt told me to go for it. So I did. What a roller coaster ride it’s been as I dealt with the good and bad of the writing life. I worked hard, did everything right, and my novel didn’t get published. All I could think of was that I had failed out loud in front of everyone. I berated myself for not keeping my goals secret. Why, oh why did I open my mouth and declare that I was a writer?

I spent a lot of time pondering that question as well as many others that threatened to destroy my writing life and my confidence. Thankfully, I kept writing. At times it was painful, but I found I couldn’t stop. When it became too tough, I read. I also cried, begged, and pleaded with God to either help me get published or take away the desire to write. So far, neither has happened. I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not, so I’ll keep writing.

Then I came across Heather Webb’s article on Writers in the Storm titled A Writer’s Lessons in Failure. It was as if she had written for my heart alone. I simply had to share what Ms. Webb conveyed so eloquently because it inspires hope. It reminds us that we—the creatives— are not alone. I hope her perspective toward handling failure will encourage you to keep trying, failing out loud if necessary, if for no other reason than to satisfy your soul.

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