The Origin of Hydrangea

hydrangea

I love it when my kids apply things they’ve learned in books to everyday life.  Like, when my youngest son wondered if the hydrangea plant I brought home from Easter Sunday service is named for the mythological monster “Hydra”.

If you wonder about the origins of words too, join the Wondrous Words Wednesday meme at Bermuda Onion.  There, bloggers share new words they’ve learned or some of their favorites.

We’ve been listening to The Lightening Thief during our soccer commuting.  When I read the first book a few years ago, I didn’t like it.  Too many crises, not enough character development.  But, I’ve recently decided to give it another try.  I want to learn more mythology, and all the action keeps me awake while driving.  Bonus: I know it’s appropriate for little ears, and my kids enjoy it.  It’s fun sharing books with them.

Anyway, during our listening, Percy recently had to battle a Hydra, a sea-snake type monster with multiple heads.  When one head is sliced off, two more grow back in its place.  (You can see why this would be a challenging monster to defeat, but Percy manages, with help from his friends of course.)  I told my son I doubted the beautiful flowering plant was named for a monster; perhaps the common link came from “hydro” which means water.

 

 

Here’s what I learned:

Hydrangeas were first discovered in Japan, and their name comes from the Greek “hydor” (water) plus “angos” (jar or vessel).  This roughly translates to “water barrel”, perhaps because of the cup shape of the flowers and the plant’s need for lots of water. (Thanks Teleflora )

I couldn’t find any official origin for Hydra, but since it’s a water snake, I’m sure it also comes from the Greek hydro, or water.

Word Nerd Workout

Can you think of other words that come from the Greek root “hydor”?  And, if you’ve read The Lightening Thief, what did you think?

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why I Love Monticello

Thomas Jefferson quotes

I just got back from my last “trip across Virginia” with the fourth grade at our elementary school.  In 48 hours, we traveled from the west side of the state to the east and visited Richmond, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Monticello.  Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?  Well, it was.  But also very, very good.

My last trip across Virginia with child number 4. Bittersweet.

My favorite stop on the trip is always the last one, Monticello.  By the time we get there, the entire crew is exhausted, but being at Jefferson’s home always lifts my spirits. Not just because the tidy gardens appeal to my need for organization and  color. Not just because the view of central Virginia extends for miles from atop the mountain, or that I can see the dome of the Rotunda at my beloved University of Virginia from the side of Jefferson’s house.

What always gets me is the amazing capacity of Jefferson’s mind.  He constantly observed, considered, and created.  For example, he never studied architecture “officially” in school, but he created the first designs for his home based on his study of books about architecture.  Do you know how important this is to a mama who does not have time to enroll in an MFA program or a photography course?  I can read, therefore, I can learn anything I set my mind to.

Monticello is full of Jefferson’s inventions. When the carriage he had used for years, a small and fast model, became too tiring for him to ride in, Jefferson designed a new carriage that he could travel in more comfortably.  He also installed in it a primitive odometer to measure the miles he traveled.  It marked off tenths of miles and a bell chimed at every mile. Did you know that Jefferson was one of the founders of the American Decimal System?  (I didn’t… until Thursday.)

Some of the lovely flowers at Monticello

Officially, Jefferson’s vocation was lawyer, but he didn’t limit his mind to studying the law.  He filled his world with information about weather, history, classical art and architecture, gardening. He was a true Renaissance Man, a person who has wide interests and is expert in several areas.

I won’t claim to be an expert in anything, but this life model that Mr. Jefferson has given us, one that embraces and prioritizes knowledge and creativity, always inspires me.  I don’t have to feel bad that I hold degrees in two different areas of study, and that the vocation I pursue now is completely different.  His legacy assures me it’s okay to have many passions and pursuits, that the most important thing is to keep learning.

I know Jefferson wasn’t perfect. He rewrote the Bible to suit his religious philosophy, (heretical, I can’t deny it), and he was a slave owner and a poor manager of money.  Those flaws are as important to remember as his greatness, but in the end, it’s his pursuit of knowledge that I cling to.

Word Nerd Note: If you also like to pursue varied interests, I’d like to recommend The Portfolio Life, a podcast by Jeff Goins that encourages creative, thoughtful people to pursue their varied passions.

Do you have many passions?  What are they?  How do you keep your mind stimulated?  Also, if anyone can recommend a biography about Thomas Jefferson, I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me,

 

 

Vocab from Small Great Things: Specious

My book club is reading Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult this month, and so far, it’s a fantastic read.  Ruth, a black nurse working in a labor and delivery ward, is assigned to care for a baby whose parents are white supremacists.  When the baby’s parents complain, Ruth’s supervisor tells Ruth not to care for or even touch the baby.  However, during a hectic shift, when all the other nurses are busy, the baby boy goes into cardiac arrest.

Tragedy strikes, followed closely by litigation. Picoult does a great job of presenting the back story for each character and how their experiences shape their views. She handles the complicated and sensitive issue of race relations with beautiful language and thoughtful insights. I’m looking forward to spending more time with this book. (Which I must, as I’m supposed to have it read by next Tuesday!  I might have to indulge in something called “Reading during the day”.  What a treat!)

Last night, I came across a new word in an exchange of dialogue between one of the lead characters, a public defender, and her mother.

You know when you say things like that it makes me want to get a prescription for Xanax,” my mother sighs.  “I thought that you were going to start looking for a real job when Violet went to school.”

“A, I do have a real job, and B, you’re already taking Xanax, so that’s a specious threat.”

I had to take a trip to Merriam Webster to learn what specious means.

Specious \ˈspē-shəs\ adjective from  Latin speciosus, meaning “beautiful” or “plausible,” and Middle English “visually pleasing”; around the 17th century, specious began to suggest a superficial or deceptive attractiveness

  • having deceptive attraction or allure
  • having a false look of truth or genuineness

Word Nerd Workout

Don’t forget to visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for the WWW meme!

You could use specious to describe a sketchy argument or reasoning that does not stand up to questioning.  Can you think of a synonym for specious? Mine is “misleading”.

If you like learning about new words, visit Bermuda Onion’s Wondrous Words Wednesday meme.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Liked, and Didn’t, About Truly, Madly, Guilty

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Ever since I listened to Big Little Lies last year, I’ve been a huge Liane Moriarty fan. Her books are an appealing mix of humor and reality that touch on every day challenges but also have an intriguing element of mystery. Her latest release, Truly, Madly, Guilty, has gotten mixed reviews. In fact, I know some people who refuse to read it because their friends have hated it. My book club buddy Caroline found the first half of the novel so frustrating, she removed it from our 2017 reading list.

So of course, I had to check it out.

Premise

Truly, Madly, Guilty tells the story of an innocent backyard barbecue gone terribly wrong. Moriarty gives us a main cast of three quirky couples and explores how the events of one Sunday afternoon forces them to reconsider their marriages, their identities, and their parenting skills.

What I liked

As always, Moriarty gives readers well-developed, multidimensional characters. They are obsessive, charismatic, and interesting, and she provides back story for their idiosyncrasies and empathy for their weaknesses. Also, her “reveals” – one big one in the middle and a few smaller ones near the end – were satisfying and surprising. At the end, she does a nice job of tying up seemingly unrelated plot threads. Moriarty has a knack for capturing essential truths about life, like the strain between dysfunctional parents and their adult children, with stunning clarity. I always find a few key lines in her books that make me nod and say, “Exactly!” Truly, Madly, Guilty was no exception.

What I didn’t like

Caroline was right; the first half of Truly, Madly, Guilty is extremely frustrating. The characters keep lamenting the “barbecue in that ridiculous back yard”, but it takes a couple hundred pages (or, for the listener, a couple of hours) to finally learn what happened that was so terrible. Although I appreciate the need to build suspense, Moriarty indulges in lengthy scenes that spend too much time on unnecessary details.

In the January 2017 issue of Writers Digest, Moriarty explains that she structured the book as she did so that readers wouldn’t judge the reactions of the characters. She said, “…some readers did get impatient, and some admitted to me that they flipped ahead… This was a particularly tricky book in terms of structure, and who knows if I got it right.” I think the structure could have worked if she trimmed down her excessive descriptions of everyday life and painted her characters and their relationships more succinctly. For example, the first half of the novel has a long, painful scene about a young family trying to find a lost shoe. The tedious dialogue is punctuated by a child repeatedly asking for a cracker. Instead of piquing my interest in the characters and the dynamics between them, the scene annoyed me as if it were a whiny child itself.

Recommendation

Although I don’t think this is Moriarty’s best book, and I did find the first half trying, in the end, I’m glad I finished it. I laughed, I cried, and I thought seriously about my relationship with my husband and children. To me, that makes a good story.

Word Nerd Notes

I listened to the audio book version, narrated by Caroline Lee, who always does a great job with Moriarty’s books. But perhaps reading the hard copy would be good for this one, since you can skim through some of the slower parts.

Have you read Truly, Madly, Guilty? Why or why isn’t it worth the read? Help my readers decide if they should try it.

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

When to Use I or Me

Whew!  Sorry it’s been a while since I posted on the blog.  Little things like taxes and late night soccer games have interfered with my schedule and sleeping pattern, with some frustrating results.  But I’m back today to share another Word Nerdy tip inspired by my last post, How to Use the Pronoun Myself.

Not only are a lot of people confused about when to use “myself”, they are also uncertain about when to use “I” or “me”, especially if there is more than one person/noun/subject in the sentence.  For example,

Dad gave Percy and I some money.

That sounds right, doesn’t it?  But actually, it’s not correct grammar.  Let me explain.

Personal Pronouns

Pronouns take the place of a noun, and personal pronouns come in two forms, subjective and objective.

Subjective pronouns (I, we) represent the subject of the sentence- the thing that is doing something.  The two we use for first person are I for one or we for multiple people.  For example,

  • I washed the car. (I is the subject of the sentence.)
  • We went to the movie. (We is the subject.)

Objective pronouns (me, us) represent something acted upon by the subject of the sentence, and for first person they are me and us.

  • Dad gave us money.  (Dad (subject)  is giving us(object) something.)
  • The bee stung me.  (The bee (subject) hurt me (object).)

We get confused when a sentence has two or more subjects.  For example, should we say “Tammy and I went to the mall” or “Tammy and me went to the mall”?

It’s also easy to get confused when there are two objects, as in “Dad gave Percy and I some money”.  This sounds right, and often people choose to use “I” because it sounds more formal.  But Percy and I are the objects of this sentence; Dad is the subject. (He’s the one giving out money.)  Therefore, we should use the objective pronoun, or me/us.

The trick for choosing I or Me

Now that we’ve established the cause for confusion, how do we fix it?  I like to substitute we or us and see what sounds right.  For example:

  • Tammy and I went to the mall  OR Me and Tammy went to the mall.
  • Substitute-> We went to the mall OR Us went to the mall.

We is clearly the right choice, and since it’s the subjective form of the pronoun, I know I need to use I.

  • Dad gave me and Percy some money OR Dad gave Percy and I some money.
  • Substitute -> Dad gave us some money OR Dad gave we some money.

Us sounds better, so I know that I should use “me and Percy” in the sentence, as they are the objects of the sentence.

I hope this little trick helps!  Thanks to Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman for reference info.

Word Nerd Workout

Tell me if each sentence is grammatically correct and why or why not.  Try the we/us substitution trick if you’re not sure.

  1. Sherlock gave Watson and I two minutes to search the room.
  2. Preston and I went to Dairy Queen for ice cream.
  3. Donald told me and Carson to choose a seat at the table.

What other grammar issues confuse you?  I’m happy to help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Use the Pronoun “Myself”

reflexive pronouns

Someone in my house, I won’t give away names, likes to use the pronoun “myself” as a subject. For example, if I ask, “Who was at the meeting?”, he’ll say “Henry, Patrick, and myself.”

This reply always makes me twitch. Although I suspect he’s using myself this way because it’s sounds formal or proper, my Word Nerd intuition tells me it’s grammatically incorrect. I’ve finally done the research to figure it out.

Some tips on reflexive pronouns

Reflexive pronouns end with -self (e.g. myself, yourself, itself).  There are, according to my reference manual Grammatically Correct by Anne Stilman, only three situations when we should use reflexive pronouns:

1) When the subject and the object of a sentence are the same and reflect each other:

  • You take yourself too seriously. (subject = you, object of the verb take = yourself)
  • He spoke critically of himself (subject = he; object = himself)
  • The radio turned itself off. (subject = radio; object of turned = itself)

2) When you need to clarify that the subject did something alone or without help:

  • She did all the laundry herself.
  • I can’t line the fields by myself.
  • Can’t you talk to him yourself?

3) When the pronoun emphasizes another word. (Then it has the fancy title of “intensive pronoun”)

  • I myself would never do that at work.
  • Patrick himself has no idea where he left his phone.
  • I insist on speaking to the doctor himself.

So, when I ask, “Who was at the meeting?”, the proper answer would be, “Henry, Patrick, and I.”

Word Nerd Workout

Choose the correct word for each sentence below:

  1. Stacey and (I/myself) went to the movies on Saturday.
  2. The doctor spoke directly to Bill and (me/myself).
  3. People tell me I take (me/myself) too seriously.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.