Words from the Nerd Side

Fee and fees

Courtesy of Melinda Van Lone

Why is there a picture of a cow underneath the title “Fee and fees”? Because the word comes from the Old English word, fioh, féo, meaning cattle or property. Trace it back far enough, and one arrives at Latin pecū, which also means cattle.  The Latin word for money, pecūnia, also ties cattle and wealth.  In modern English, we get “fees” from the Germanic roots of our language, and “pecuniary” from the Latin roots, but they both lead us to money and cattle.

However, I don’t think I can take Bossie to the bursar at the University to pay my son’s fees for his summer classes.  It is an entertaining thought, though. To be fair, the use of fioh or féo to mean movable property has been around for some time. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first use of féo as money as the Codex Aureus, circa 870; the earliest usage of féo as moveable property is in Ælfred’s translation of Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, circa 888.

I went to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington, getting (among other degrees) a certificate in medieval studies. The street running by several of the undergraduate dorms, ending near the Libraries, is Fee Lane. I always wondered why it was called Fee Lane.  It seemed an insensitive reminder to parents of the cost of higher education.  It was only when I team taught a class in Medieval Legal History that my esteemed and learned colleague told the class the history of “fee.” Now I share it with you, as the beginning of a dive into etymology and the intricacies of the English language.

Is there a word you want to investigate?  Leave it in the comments, and I’ll see what I can do.

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life

Return from the Mist

Although most people quote the saying, “Time flies when you’re having fun,” I find time also flies when I am stressed, depressed, or busy with not-fun stuff. Last year about this same time, I posted plans for changes to this blog.  Then life slid into an ocean of fog and mist, and I realized with a frisson, that it had been a year, when Eli, of Coach Daddy, asked me to contribute to one of his six-word story posts.

Sure, I have excuses, many of them viable–surgery in January, work craziness in the summer, but nothing is really persuasive. I stopped blogging because I felt I had nothing of interest to say. However, I now know that I write to think about things, and perhaps I am not the only person struggling with the same things.

I do not plan to be political, although I have no problem being contentious. I tend to be more concerned with life, the humanities, and a life well-lived, with strong opinions for which I feel no need to apologize. Feel free to come along for the ride.

EM

life, Uncategorized

Gratitude III

In this post, I want to thank all my writer friends.  First, Jan, who was the first to encourage me to write something to post for a small group; an online friend in the UK, whom I had the good fortune to meet in real life during my visit to England last February.  I like to think that the two of us encouraged our mutual friend, Elaine, to start writing as well.  To them, and to the rest of my friends in that online community, thank you so very much for believing in me. You are counted among the best friends I have; I just wish we lived closer to one another.Last summer, I was looking for an online writing community, as living in the hinterlands of Florida meant the closest real-life group was forty miles away.  I stumbled across A Round of Words in 80 Days, which struck me with its reasonable goal-setting and ability to tweak them.  I lurked for a few weeks, then joined in when Round 3 started on July 4th. I was a sponsor for Round 3 and 4 of 2011; it was a great experience, and it helped me meet a lot of people.; I encourage you to try it, if you’re interested.I was blown away by the support and camaraderie of the group. Helpful links to blog posts outlining writing tips, suggestions for books to read, courses to take, all poured into my mailbox. As I grew more comfortable sharing my personal story, I received more support–virtual cheers when I succeeded at something, virtual hugs when I failed, but encouragement through it all.  I have met C. M. Cipriani in real life, as it turned out she lived only 45 minutes away from me.  She put ROW80 well, saying, “These are friends; I feel like I know them, even though I’ve never met them.” I know exactly what she means; I feel as though I know several of you. Thank you all for taking the time to come by to support, encourage, bolster and chide.

Finally, I would like to finish thanking the people who follow my blog.  This post will catch me up, so I can copy L. S. Engler from now on, thanking followers as they add themselves to my blog. I’ve included some information about their blogs, if they have one.

Cheryel Hutton http://cheryelhutton.wordpress.com/ working on her third novel, talks to dragons, and they talk back

Ramesh Nanda http://rameshnanda.wordpress.com/ blogs mash-ups

Tiffany A. White http://tiffanyawhite.wordpress.com/  blogs TV reviews and things that make you go  “Ooo”

Thea Atkinson http://theaatkinson.wordpress.com/ author of short stories and novels;  writes about the writing life

Catherine M. Johnson http://catherinemjohnson.wordpress.com/ everything about writing for children

Talin Orfali http://talinorfali.wordpress.com/ blogs about life, posts recipes

Coral http://alchemyofscrawl.wordpress.com/ posts book reviews

Julia Indigo http://juliaindigo.wordpress.com/ blogs about the writing life

Six Sentence Sunday

Six Sentence Monday

I know it’s not Sunday, but I posted non-fiction yesterday, so I’m plunging into the deep end with some fiction today.

He was lost before the music ended.  Her delicate, but not fragile, hand disappeared in his, starting the nerves tingling all the way up his arm. His other hand covered over half of the small of her back, the warmth of which raised his heart rate to a level he hadn’t felt recently save in combat. Even worse, the crush of the dance floor drew them closer together than was truly proper; although the joyousness of the celebration cancelled the affront, it didn’t relieve the chaos swirling through him as they were inexorably pushed chest-to-chest by the crush. For his own sanity, and to have any hope of talking to this vision, finding out her name before she disappeared back into the dreamland from whence she came, he leaned down to her ear, savoring the excuse to inhale the spicy-sweet fragrance of her, “Let’s go outside for some air.” She tipped up on her toes to answer, “Yes, please,” totally unaware of what her sweet, warm breath on his face was doing to him.
Six Sentence Sunday, travel

Six Sentence Sunday

The parking lot for the Alachua Sink looked unimpressive; cars parked on the dirt under the live oaks. Next to a bulletin board full of announcements and brochures, a sign stuck into the dirt pointed, warning that the observation deck was a half-mile away. The path meandered off into the woods, with few signs of human habitation. Soon I crossed the Hawthorne Trail, a popular bike path that replaced an unused railroad line; its pavement new and bright, a stark contrast to the sandy dirt path that crosses it. Around another couple of turns, I walked underneath a train trestle, rails gone, gravel sidings disappearing into the grass, which was left to grow tall and heavy with seeds. Trees have fallen and been left where they lie, obscured by Virginia creeper and hanging vines as thick as my wrist, looking like those in the early Tarzan movies.
research, This Day in History, Writing

Ellis Island closes its doors, November 12, 1954

Arrival at Ellis Island, courtesy of Scholastic.com
On this day in 1954, Ellis Island closed its doors, although it had not been the federal immigration center for 30 years.  From 1892 to 1924, immigrants to the United States through New York harbour had filed through its corridors, been checked for infectious diseases and mental problems; and then, if lucky, were released into the streets of New York.
When I thought of Ellis Island in the past, I always assumed that several of the Mitchells, Russells, Kanes, and other members of my father’s family came through this facility.  When I read that the facility was only open from 1892-1924, I realized that only one of my relatives would have come through its doors. Reading through This Day in History, I realized how little I knew about this icon of immigrant life. I was further surprised that Ellis Island only processed the third-class passengers; first- and second-class passengers disembarked at piers in New York or New Jersey to go through customs after a brief on-board inspection. Those at Ellis Island really were “the huddled masses.”
The Grand Hall, courtesy of Scholastic.com
I have not visited the Ellis Island museum, although I suspect walking through it would give rise to hundreds of stories. I cannot imagine waiting in the grand hall for hours, much less the days or weeks it would take before a family member was released from quarantine.  These photographs are taken from the tour on Scholastic’s teachers site; although the text is for 4th- or 5th- graders, and rightly so, the pictures are powerful in themselves.
It is very strange to think that only my paternal grandmother went through Ellis Island; to be honest, I am not even sure of that, although it seems likely.  The early life of my grandmother is largely unknown, which seems odd in modern times. Last week, the social worker who is helping my parents with assisted living asked my three siblings and myself for the history of my grandparents.  I was appalled at how little we knew about my paternal grandmother. The historical record is all too brief, and honestly, seems to have a bit of the Irish blarney attached to it.

One day in the 1890’s, a ship docked at Ellis Island from Cobh, Ireland. As the families filed out, there was a little girl who seemed to be alone.  She was about 3 or 4 years old, and had no family with her.  She only knew her first name, but left Ellis Island with a brand-new, patently made-up last name, O’Smith (oh, that’s very Irish).  The story goes that she had a piece of paper with the name and New York address of a first cousin pinned to her dress, and that he raised her as his own.

I have several problems with this story. First, how does a 3-year-old get on a ship in Cobh?  If her parent or parents died on board, wouldn’t the ship’s captain or purser know about it?  Would the officials on Ellis Island really just send a little girl off to the address given on a paper pinned to her dress?  And if this address is that of a first cousin, why didn’t he give her either his own name or restore her original one?

According to what we know, she did grow up in New York with her first cousin’s daughters, and she kept the made-up name of O’Smith until she married my grandfather. No one knows how old she was when she died in 1947, having taken to her bed several years before when she gave birth to a Downs syndrome child. It was whispered that the root cause was alcoholism, but no one knows much of anything about her life.  How can someone living less than 100 years ago, who married and had six children, be such a mystery?

Her story draws the writer in me; I want to know what she felt, dreamt, loved, lived.  I have always been fascinated with history, of a place, of a family, of a person.  My grandmother’s story would have to be fiction, but it is a story I am itching to write.

Do any of you have mysteries in, or mysterious members of, your family? What are your stories?

goals, life, Writing

Life goals

Several months ago, when I stumbled across the Life List Club, I started thinking about how I have been driving on ice through life. For the Southerners among you, I will explain that driving on ice is simply impossible, unlike driving on snow, which is a pain, but usually manageable. Driving on ice means that turning the wheel often has no effect on the inertia of this 1-2,000 pound car, which merrily continues  in the same direction, whether that be into a guardrail, a parked vehicle, or a pond. In fact, when driving on ice, not turning the wheel is not the safe option it seems, because the tires may hit a little ruffle in the ice, or a ridge left by a snowplow, or any slight inconsistency, and also take off like a dog after a squirrel: perhaps a very old, very slow, dog, but just as intent and purposeful. I very much dislike ice. I have fallen on ice many, many times; in three cases, I broke bones; in a fourth, I dislocated my shoulder.

I went to graduate school to become a professor, but it became clear as I was planning my dissertation there were no positions in medieval studies.  I went to library school, and then proceeded to join the working world. The problem? I have missed teaching and research and writing. Also, part of why I wanted to teach included (perhaps incorrectly, since I hear complaints from my friends who are professors) having the time to write creative fiction and non-fiction that didn’t require twenty footnotes a page.

But I stuck my head in the sand, barely touching the wheel of the car, praying that it wouldn’t careen into the guardrail or a parked car. Last year, my first wake-up call came when my brother had a serious illness. I began thinking about my life, and why I was hiding from what I wanted to do. The second wake-up call came this summer when a woman I knew only online was killed in an auto accident. I had never met her, but in a way some of you will understand, felt I knew her rather well, She was young, had married the year before, and was a doctor who went to Pakistan to help out following the floods, had gone to Haiti to help after the earthquakes, a person whom I admired greatly. Suddenly, I realized that I was pinning all my writing time on retirement, and that life had given me no guarantees that I would survive to reach retirement.

Many participants in the Round of Words have been talking about life goals, beyond the writing goals. I signed up for a webinar on finding time to write; the presenter talked about having five areas that were of paramount importance and one would answer yes to any request from these areas. Other areas had to fit in where they could, or more often, get told “No.” My first four were easy: health, family, friends, and writing. Not to say that I haven’t neglected these areas recently, especially friends, but they were easily in the top five. The fifth one is much harder to add to the list, because it is the day job. I am often expected to be on call in the evenings and on days off or vacations any time my superiors want me. No, I’m not a neurologist, I’m a librarian. Yes, it is ridiculous, so please go ahead and laugh. As a first step, I would love to have a job that I could leave at the workplace; one where I am not made to feel guilty for each and every day that I take off (yes, I earn vacation, but the corporate culture is to retire with months of it saved up). However,  the best I can do right now is say no as much as I can without jeopardizing my job.

So, I haven’t yet made SMART goals (for the definition of those, see Kait Nolan’s post here), but I do have some idea of where I am headed.

My first area is health. I feel slightly guilty about putting this first, as it is all about me, but I also realize that if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of anyone else. I gained weight when I shattered both my tibia and fibula fourteen years ago and was confined to a wheelchair for several months; given the amount of time I’ve been heavy, it will take some time to come off. I have about fifty pounds to lose; I am hoping to lose between a half-pound and a pound per week through exercising at least forty-five minutes a day and careful meal planning. I tend to eat when I’m stressed, so I hope to transfer my stress relief from food to exercise.

My second area is family. I realized during this last trip that I like my kids (what a concept!) and that I need to have more contact with them.  I tend to withdraw from people, even family, when I am stressed or depressed. I had a strange and unhappy childhood, so I grew up as this strange, withdrawn child. I forget sometimes that I worked very hard not to pass that on to my children. I plan to be in contact with each of the four kids at least once a week, even if only a short text conversation. I am also going to devote one weekend evening to a date night with my husband.  We started out as great friends, and while we still are very close, we are so used to looking at one another over a row of kids, we need to get re-acquainted.

The third area is friends. I am a terrible friend, more so as I come under stress or during bad times. As I was a strange, withdrawn child, I had a lot of trouble making friends, and found rejection hard to bear. In the strange logic of the preemptive strike, I hide from my friends at the times I need them the most, so as not to be rejected. This leads to my not knowing what may be going on with them, not offering any help or support, purely out of ignorance. I plan to get in touch with one friend each week until I’ve re-established contact, and can maintain more contact. Depending on the closeness of the friend and our respective circumstances, I will keep in touch anywhere from once a week to once a month.

The fourth area is writing. Ah, this is the tricky one. I have sacrificed my creative writing, whether non-fiction or fiction, ripping out its heart to put on the altar of keeping the day job. However, I am not going to spend as many hours on the day job as I have in the past, so that I have more time for my writing. I will spend one and one-half hours on the articles I have to write, and one half-hour a day on my writing. It will be painfully slow, but it will be more progress than I have managed in the past several months. I mentioned in an earlier check-in that I had fallen in love with the dissertation topic again; it is bittersweet that I have done so, because it has to take a back seat to the articles; however, I am going to work on the dissertation one half-hour a day.

My fifth area is the day job. I cannot change it, but I can change my attitude. Thank you, Marcia Richards for a great guest post on  Lyn Midnight’s blog for that. My goal is to be as available as I have to be, and as unavailable as I can manage. I removed my work email from my phone; I will no longer answer the phone at home on the weekends if it is a call about work. Like all of my colleagues, I do the majority of my service and research requirements on my own time, and that is more than enough to ask. I do a very good job, but what I do is neither brain surgery nor rocket science, and I will not work 50 to 60 hours a week in addition to service and research.

So, here are my goals. I’m hoping to fold several of these into the Round of Words challenge, so that I will hold myself accountable for them.