Category Archives: Language

Flora Poste’s hat

One of my favorite rainy day films is Cold Comfort Farm. It’s funny, the dialogue is a treat for the ears, and it’s just one of those movies that puts me in a good mood.

In the scenes where Flora Poste (played by Kate Beckinsale) travels to the farm from London, she’s wearing a jaunty cream-colored knit cloche:


This summer Churchmouse Yarns & Tea released a pattern based on this hat and sponsored a knitalong on Ravelry. While I completed the cloche in record time, it took me a few months to photograph the final result:

Flora Poste's hat

Full Ravelry details here.

I purchased the yarn at WEBS this summer, fully intending to select the cream-colored Blue Sky Alpaca Silk, but in hand I felt kind of meh about it. This lovely grapey purple spoke of fall to me, so I went with that instead. The hat’s a little snug–my noggin’s on the large side–but I’ve also had my hair cut since the summer so I’ve got some reduced bulk to fit under there when winter comes. It’s not my warmest cap, but it’s certainly my most elegant knit topper.

September is kicking my butt, thus why I’ve been so quiet. O is slowly easing into middle school, although the transition hasn’t been the smoothest. He’s not a morning person, nor am I, so the 7:15 a.m. bus arrival has been a trial by fire for both of us. Luckily the school is an easy bike ride on the trail, unlike his elementary school, which was a good four miles on the other side of town. O also has a lot more homework, and with my studying for nursing school I’m exhausted by 8 or 9 p.m. Everything has suffered–blogging, housework, keeping up with family and friends–but this week feels a little more settled. Fingers crossed!



Thank you Jeff Kinney

I’m just about to hop on my bike, pedal down to the bookstore, and make O very happy today. The latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series was released on Tuesday, and before you roll your eyes and scoff at my son’s reading choices, hear me out.

One of my biggest hopes — nay expectations! — was that any child I birthed would be a reader. Of course he would! Both my husband and I are bookworms. My husband read more books than any other kid one summer and won a trampoline through the public library. I learned to read when I was three, and my childhood is one long, hazy, pleasant memory of gorging on everything from Nancy Drew mysteries and Little House on the Prairie, to biographies of doomed European queens (Marie Antoinette and Anne Boleyn were particular favorites) and books about faraway places I longed to visit (Japan, India, England of course). I was the kid who read under the blankets with a flashlight, whose parents claimed I’d go blind for reading in the dark. When I had my own child, I dreamed not only of the books we’d read together before bedtime, starting with Goodnight Moon and Richard Scarry, but I even held off reading all of the Harry Potter books so we could read them in tandem when he was old enough.

You probably see where this is going.

O has never been a reader. He resisted learning how to read, and I swear, he only liked me reading to him at night because it gave him an extra 10 or 15 minutes before we turned out the light. I offered to buy him any books he wanted; there was no limit to what I’d spend. Instead, he’d ask if he could turn that largesse into Legos or stuffed animals or anything besides a boring old book. When his teacher in second grade noted that he read far below his grade level, I cringed. No, I’ll admit it. I was embarrassed. I wondered if she thought we were one of those families who didn’t read. You know, you walk into their house and the only book you can find is the phone book, covered in dust, because who really needs a phone book anymore now that there’s Google? I felt the need to tell her that when we moved to Massachusetts, I got an upcharge from my mover because of all the books I owned. That I’ve written three books; I practically read for a living! That our town librarians know me by name, as do the cashiers at Barnes & Noble … in multiple locations. even used to send me plastic travel mugs at Christmastime for being such a valuable customer.

I may have even come home and ordered O, “You’re going to start reading, dammit, and you’ll like it too!”

During one trip to Texas a few years ago, I told O that we needed to stop by Barnes & Noble. He must have been in a good mood or wanted something at Target because he agreed to go. Wandering around the children’s section, I noticed The Diary of a Wimpy Kid display and picked up a book. It was written in big type. It had pictures … well, line drawings, but enough to break up the type. I brought the book over to O and gingerly asked if he wanted me to read it to him. Much to my surprise, he said I could. We read a chapter and he asked (cue angels singing), “Can you buy it for me?”

(And the devil in me replied), “Only if you promise to read some of it yourself.”

He said he’d try.

I read the book to him the rest of the week we were in Texas. He read it again — by himself — on the plane ride home. When we arrived in Boston he asked if I could buy him the next book, which I did. That night. When he found out the third book wouldn’t be released for several months, he cried.

Mental stadium cheer.

I’ve talked to a lot of parents who scoff at these books. They’re not Literature, they contain poop jokes, they don’t offer valuable life lessons for children … oh please, I want to interrupt. Just stop it. O now reads far beyond his grade level; in fourth grade he was spelling and reading at the sixth grade level, and this year I’ve caught him reading The Hunger Games and The Hobbit, not to mention encyclopedic tomes on wildlife. Books like Kinney’s get kids who don’t like reading to read. And then they talk to their friends about what they’ve read and those friends recommend books they like. And they start wondering what else is out there to read. And even — I kid you not — they talk about writing a book of their own and would I mind if it contained a poop joke or two?

Do I mind? You’re talking to someone who enjoyed reading about queens who got their heads chopped off. What’s a little poop?

ETA 6:15 p.m.: O has been reading The Third Wheel steadily since 4 p.m., taking a break only to eat a jelly sandwich. 🙂

We sound that bad? (Friday funny)

I’m not sure how I found this video, but it’s both fascinating and hilarious. Have you ever wondered what American English sounds like to a foreigner who speaks no English? I have. This video reminds me of when my younger brother and I were kids and we’d pretend to speak German or French, making up Teutonic- or ou-la-la-sounds and stringing them together. Yeah, we were short on entertainment in the day.


I also found this skit quite funny. I believe it’s from an Australian show, but it looks like the skit takes place in London. Enjoy!

It doesn’t belong to Howard

A couple weeks ago, I was reading a New York Times‘ article about the appeal of Downton Abbey when my eyeballs hit the brakes:

“Granted, it’s rare that we don’t go nuts for lavishly produced Edwardian costume dramas with beautiful clothes, houses and manners; with their delicious tensions and upheavals and their tendency to squash lowly clerks under enormous bookcases after they enter into ill-advised romances with impulsive, intellectual upper-class girls. (See the tragic denouement of “Howard’s [sic] End.”)

You see, I’d made the same mistake in a post I’d written about Downton Abbey just days before. Just as I hit “post,” a 20-year-old memory of a paper I’d written in “The Modern British Novel” floated into my consciousness: Howard does not possess the End: It’s Howards End with no possessive “s.”

(The NYT has since issued a correction on the punctuation mistake.)

Here’s another one, though, that took me by surprise. I’m blaming it on skipping out of Great American Novels Written by Men so I could read the likes of Woolf, Eliot, and Wollstonecraft in college. I was in Barnes and Noble this weekend, flipping through those B&N classic novel paperbacks that are priced so reasonably at $6.50, when I spotten an n-dash between Moby and Dick. For years, I’ve been writing that I’ve never read Moby Dick. Well, yes, that’s because it’s Moby-Dick, and I haven’t read that doorstop either. Finnegans Wake is another title I see mis-punctuated with a possessive “s.” I hesitate to call Finnegans Wake a novel, though. More like 600 pages of a crazy Irishman’s scatological ranting.

Are there any other works of classic literature that have titles frequently mangled by either the masses or the press, as in the case of Howards End? Inquiring minds and all …



How old are you?

Last week my son and I were making the rounds of our new neighborhood. After yet another introduction, O growled as we walked away, “How come it’s okay for adults to ask me how old I am, but it’s rude if I ask how old they are?”

Good observation, my boy!

Part of the reason, I explained, is that many adults are often at a loss making conversation with kids. They don’t have young children or they’re not in tune with what’s going on in Kid World, so rather than ask if you’re planning to see Cars II, they fall back on what I call “numbers questions”: “What grade are you in?” “How long have you been out of school?” “How old are you?” Even people who do have children ask this because they’re trying to figure out if their kid is the same age. A more polite way of asking the question would be indirectly, such as, “You look to be the same age as my 10-year-old son.” O agreed this was the more civilized, respectful approach.

Flash forward to two nights ago. O and I were at the cash register at Savers, a chain thrift store. The cashier, who looked to be all of 20 years old, asks me, “Are you 55 or older?” I wasn’t sure I heard her right and said, “Excuse me?” She giggles and says a little more loudly, “Are you 55 or older?” By now there must have been a shocked look on my face because she adds, “I’m sorry … it’s a store policy. I have to ask everyone that question because we give a discount to seniors.”

“You ask that of everyone?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Unless they look like a teenager.”

“So you’ve managed to insult a customer twice in less than 30 seconds,” I responded. “Well done.”

She didn’t know what to make of my comment — perhaps the math in my sentence confused her — and after I paid I lingered at bit at a display to hear how she rang out the people behind me, a couple that definitely didn’t look like fans of Justin Bieber. Nope, they didn’t get asked if they were 55+.

When I got home I sent an e-mail to Savers’ customer service, asking if it was their policy to ask customers for their ages because IMO, it’s a pretty stupid policy. First of all, because it’s Savers, a freaking thrift shop. Customers are already getting a pretty good discount! Second, because no matter what your age — 22, 30, 46, 65, 82 — do you really want to hear that you look like you could be over 55, especially when all you’re trying to do is buy two pairs of boys’ shorts, a paperback book, and a bag of Matchbox cars for a grand total of $11? I just want to pay and get out of there, not have to answer questions about my age or whatever — it’s none of their freaking business. And third, if you’ve ever shopped with someone who is eligible for a senior discount, you know they’ll let the cashier know pronto they’re entitled to it.

This exchange left such a bad taste in my mouth, I don’t plan to ever shop at Savers again. If I want someone to ask me my age, I can visit my doctor’s office. Or go to a bar.

The eff word

Oliver came home from school one day last year, practically giddy with the news.

“Guess what L said to me at lunch?”

“Your sandwich smells?” I guessed.

O leaned in close to me, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “He said, ‘What the eff.’ But he didn’t say ‘eff.’ He said the real word.”

I tried to look blasĂ©. “And what did you say?”

“I told him it was a bad word and not appropriate for school.”

“That’s right,” I said, inwardly giving myself a smug pat on the back for my most excellent parenting.

“It’s only appropriate when you’re driving or when you’re talking to Linda,” he continued along pedantically, as if he were reciting Latin declensions. “Or when you’re in the kitchen and something goes wrong with a recipe …”

He continued with his list of appropriate what the eff moments as I thought, Wait, I’m in the kitchen all the time. I’m always screwing up recipes. WTF?

And I thought I was doing well up to this point. My younger brother Matt had told me on his first day of kindergarten, the older kids on his bus had taught him some rudimentary Anglo-Saxon and how to give drivers the middle finger. It gave me the idea that when I had children, it might be a good idea to teach them dirty words myself, explain what they mean, and when it’s appropriate — if ever — to use them. I figured my rational approach to dirty words would disarm any power they might have over my child’s tongue. And it seemed to work because I’ve never heard O say anything worse than ‘fart’ — and for the record, whenever he says it, I tell him the correct word is flatulence or ‘gas’ and please don’t say that eff word at school, either.

We’ve been reading Katherine Lasky’s wonderful series, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, where the owl characters have a very, very dirty word in their vocabulary: racdrops. Racdrops is short for ‘raccoon droppings,’ and since the owls of the books loathe raccoons and dislike animals with messy bowel habits, it’s one of the worst words they can utter in anger. So I came  up with the brilliant idea one day that O should adopt this word as his own personal eff word. He loved the idea. Soon he was playing with his Legos and exclaiming “Racdrops!” when he couldn’t find the right block. Or “Racdrops!” when I said no to takeout pizza. It was Racdrops this and Racdrops that. Even I started saying it in the kitchen when I’d get some egg shell in my pancake batter, or cut my finger on a can’s edge. Then O told me some of the kids in his class were saying “Racdrops!” too.

“Cool,” I said. “They must like Guardians of Ga’Hoole.”

Oliver gave me a funny look. “No, I taught it to them.”


My favorite Brit words

While I love a good British accent, I’m more enthralled with the way Brits construct their sentences, the words they use. Even if you Americanize the spelling of  a paragraph written by a Brit writer (such as changing “Americanise” to “Americanize”) there’s a certain rhythm and cadence to their sentences that sound nothing like American English.

But let’s talk about Brit words or expressions, words I can’t use in my everyday American speech lest I sound like a poseur. Here are some of my favorites in no particular order:

Fancy. Verb made popular by Austin Powers. As in “Fancy a shag?”

Stroppy. Ill-tempered.

Gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. I admit, I use this word sometimes.

Brilliant. Used in assent, as in “Brilliant! I’ll bring the wine.”

Wanker. So much nicer than dickhead. I get to say wanker a lot, though, when I’m talking to my Australian friend Deb. Wanker is popular Down Under.

Barrister. So much nicer than lawyer or attorney. Think John Cleese in A Fish Called Wanda.

Cheeky. Means impertinent. Often used around children.

Petrol. The gas station gone exotic.

Jolly. Who can resist, “He’s a jolly fellow, all right.”

What are your favorite Brit words? Add them to the comments section below.

Why Brits like to talk about the weather

A recent study of 3,000 Britons shows that English weather is their favorite topic of conversation, beating out discussion of football. Reports the Telegraph:

“Researchers found our day to day lives are still characterised by traditional British activities like discussing the weather, enjoying fish and chips and drinking cups of tea.”

When asked to put these cultural traditions in perspective, psychologist David Lewis said, “By differentiating us from other nations they help create a unique identity, reinforcing our confidence in the attitudes and beliefs that make us typically British.”

Hmmm. This seems like a silly little study to me. Of course the Brits love their greasy fish wrapped in newspapers and builder’s tea at 4. It’s like concluding that Americans love baseball, crappy beer, and thinking they’re #1. And I have to quibble with the weather talk. I’ve been all over the world and talked about the weather ad nauseum with Italian waiters, drivers in India, and Norwegian grandmothers. Not to mention here in New England with fellow Yanks, where weather chatter’s taught at the knee.

Wherever you are in the world: do you find yourself chatting about the weather? Or is weather talk an alien concept to you? Add your comments below.

Man Booker Prize 2009 shortlist announced

The winner of this prestigious fiction prize will be announced on October 6 in London. Six books are up for the award:

Fast readers have plenty of time to get them read before the prize is announced next month (she says as she’s just only finished last year’s winner The White Tiger a few months ago).