Monday Metaphor: slang: this is so rad

Does slang have a place in literary fiction?

In my opinion it does, but there should be a good reason for it. The author can’t just throw in a slang expression for the heck of it. Generally, slang is associated with a particular character or sub-culture. If the character would use slang in his normal setting, then it would not be out of place. It’s best to put vernacular into dialogue, not narrative.

The uses of slang are many, from the teen who wants to distance himself from his parents and the rules of the mainstream culture to the parent himself who has picked up the expressions from his child.

The writer can establish a time frame for his story by using the slang of the day. Writing about the 1920s? Maybe your character is a flapper. She would have been the bee’s knees. Is her fella a big cheese? They might have gone on a blind date.

Slang is as informal as you can get in writing or speaking, hey Cats?

Clark Gable played a lady’s man in Somewhere I’ll Find You. The writer wanted to show him as being clever with a quip. He tells another Lothario, “Guys like us are strictly Cash and Carry On.”

Anachronisms of slang create humor and show the character either has knowledge of the past or, quite the opposite, is totally ignorant of the passage of time and innocently makes a fool of himself. Would I be caught dead saying: “tuff”? Know anybody who wears a D.A. or a French twist or foam domes?

The writer is always looking for ways to create diverse characters. The slang-using character provides the author with a fresh voice.

In my Wounds, when Craig seems to be feeling sorry for himself and doesn’t want to expose himself to ridicule at the Winter Carnival, I allow Nelson to indulge in a bit of slang:

            Mrs. Ark peeked around the door from the laundry room. “Get your coat on, Craig. Let’s go.”

            “I’m not going.” He frowned.           

            “We need your help, Craig,” she said. “I know you don’t want to face all those people. But you’ve been a part of this from the beginning, and you have to see it through to the end.”

            Nelson came up behind his mother. “Yeah, suck it up, Craig.”

J. D. Salinger supplies us with several examples in Holden Caulfield’s introduction in Catcher in the Rye. (bold is mine)

            “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

            “They advertise in about a thousand magazines, always showing some hotshot guy on a horse jumping over a fence.”

             “I was surrounded by jerks.” {Holden hated “fake” people}.

Since Holden is an icon of the 20th Century, we  have to recognize that readers enjoy knowing the character for what he is, even if some of his warts happen to be slang.

More recently, slang in young adult literature often says one thing while meaning the opposite:

“I am SO sure!” “That’s so BAD.” “Yeah, right.” 

Professor Samantha A. Flanagan of Ithaca College explored the “ways in which teen slang is used in young-adult fantasy literature, specifically within vampire novels, in order to determine how teen slang has a positive or negative portrayal of young adults in America today and whether or not it has a marked effect on the popularity of the book as a whole.”

She concluded that “books that use both {sex and teen slang} as little as possible are much more popular among a large expanse of demographics and project young adults in America as a more mature group of people.”

And that leads me to conclude that slang is a pretty immature use of the language. So if a writer has a need to show his character or culture as juvenile, uneducated, or extremely casual, slang is one way to do it.



Monday Metaphor: Asyndeton: I came, I wrote, I blogged

I hope you and Julius Caesar will forgive me for warping his famous declaration.

The standard English sentence with a series calls for commas to separate each item and a conjunction before the last item.

Last time we talked about polysyndeton, the use of conjunctions throughout the series without commas.

This time we will talk about asyndeton, the use of commas to separate the items of a series without conjunctions.

There are some good reasons for using this rhetorical device. Sometimes the writer wants to give the impression that the list is not complete.  The omission of a conjunction gives the feeling of speed and concision to lists and phrases and clauses. The use of a final conjunction might weaken the power of the sentence, so leaving it out makes for a strong and direct climatic effect.

When I’m writing, I have an instinctive feel for whether a series needs a conjunction or a comma/semi-colon. Here is an example from my folk tale,   

             “The Devil’s Millhopper”  published in Long Story Short.

                        So Janey piled her corn into a wheelbarrow and took it to the

                        Devil’s mill. She descended a winding path into the gloomy

                        nether region, roiling clouds spitting out jagged shafts of lightening

                        over her head. Briars clawed at her skirts, crawly things squirmed

                        beneath her feet, eyes glowed red from behind shriveled trees.


There are many exemplary uses of asyndeton in speeches and literature. Here are a few.

Aristotle wrote in his Rhetoric that this device was more effective in spoken oratories than in written prose:

“Thus strings of unconnected words, and constant repetitions of words and phrases, are very properly condemned in written speeches: but not in spoken speeches — speakers use them freely, for they have a dramatic effect. In this repetition there must be variety of tone, paving the way, as it were, to dramatic effect; e.g., ‘This is the villain among you who deceived you, who cheated you, who meant to betray you completely.'”

American politicians have used the stratagem to great effect:

“…and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address.

“…that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” John F. Kennedy Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961.

            The US Declaration of Independence includes an example of asyndeton, referring to the British:

“We must… hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.” 

Asyndeton is another useful technique in the writer’s bag of tricks.

Monday Metaphor: Polysyndeton: Forget the Commas

I have great respect for commas. I believe each comma should have a reason for being in the sentence, and as an English teacher, I know the reasons for most commas. In some cases, the use of the comma is optional, as in when two very short clauses come together. Here’s an example: Dick tossed the ball and Jane caught it. Strictly speaking, a comma should have separated the two clauses but it’s understandable without one. Some sentences change meaning by the use or non-use of a comma. To paraphrase Marjorie Kennan Rawlings: “She watched him, speculating.” or “She watched him speculating.” In the first sentence, it is she who is speculating. In the second sentence, it is he who is speculating.


I think we’ve all be taught to separate the items in a list with a comma until we get to the last one. Personally, I still like to use a comma for the last one, but I know not everyone does and some editors don’t require it. That’s okay.

But there are special cases when doing without the commas and using a conjunction throughout is allowed.

The rhetorical term for the sentence style that employs many conjunctions is polysyndeton. The word comes from the Greek and means “bound together.” The writer can achieve overwhelming effects using this device.

Cindy Rogers, in Word Magic for Writers, says, “Polysyndeton makes good use of the conjunction, placing it between each and every word, phrase, or clause. A Polysyndeton’s repetitious effect creates a feeling of building up, of extemporaneous enumeration, of an endlessness, in fact an emphasis . . .”


This is the beginning of a story I wrote for the Muse Conference,10-14-2008, in Beverly Stowe McClure’s forum. “Michael and the Dog” {working title}

            “Hey, Mom!” called Michael. He ran up the steps two at a time, dropped his book bag on the porch, and pounded on the screen door. “Look at this.”

            “Wait for me, Michael,” called Stevie. Stevie was huffing and puffing and shuffling behind Michael.

            The dog scampered around the boys, moving from one to the other.


            Here’s something my editor questioned recently when editing Wounds. (I explained that I want to show Carson as a strong-willed and determined girl). [comments welcome]

            Craig clicked off the television and got up to leave, with Siegfried following.

            “Why don’t you stay and help us, Craig?” said Carson. “We could use some more brain power.” She looked at Mark and  Norma Faith and Chan as if to dare them to dispute her.

            They didn’t. They nodded and mumbled, “Yeah, stay, Craig.”


Here are some stunning examples in literature.

There are two polysyndetons in this paragraph about Jody from Marjorie Kennan Rawlings’ The Yearling.

It seemed a strange thing to him, when earth was earth and rain was rain, that scrawny pines should grow in the scrub, while by every branch and lake and river there grew magnolias. Dogs were the same everywhere, and oxen and mules and horses. But trees were different in different places.





This is from a tall tale about Davy Crockett and his wife, Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind:

That very night, just as Sally Ann was lying down to go to sleep, she looked out the window and saw a whole gang of ferocious alligators surrounding their house. Now Sally Ann was determined to protect that little baby of theirs, so she ran outside and she began to fling those alligators this way and that. From that day on, everyone in the whole wide world knew that Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind was the bravest woman anywhere, and the strongest, and the fastest, and the toughest. Well, most people knew. Some folks didn’t believe it, and sometimes they tried to test her strength and her courage and her wit and her wisdom and her kindness. But every time they did, they discovered it was true–Sally Ann was just exactly like she said, truly amazing. 


“A Sad-Grand Moment That Never Came” by Julie Myerson:

On the afternoon we moved out of our house, once the removal men had taken everything and all that was left was fluff and dust and picture marks on the walls and the place was so echoey that even our own voices didn’t really sound like ours anymore, on that afternoon my husband and I walked around those empty rooms one last time to say goodbye.


Rogers notes that either E. B. White “or his editors chose to place commas after each verb in this example from Charlotte’s Web, but they aren’t necessary.”

“Struggle if you must,” said Templeton, “but kindly remember that I’m hiding down here in this crate and I don’t want to be stepped on, or kicked in the face, or pummeled, or crushed in any way, or squashed, or buffeted about, or bruised, or lacerated, or scarred, or biffed.”


Jerry Spinelli used polysyndeton in this passage from Maniac Magee.

There were fiction books and nonfiction books, who-did-it books and let’s-be-friends books and what-is-it books and how-to books and how-not-to books and just-regular-kid books.


Kate diCamillo, with the use of polysyndeton, makes us feel the heartache of the boy in Because of Winn-Dixie.

           He cried just like a baby. He missed his mama and he missed his

daddy and he missed his sisters and he missed the boy he used to be.


I find the rhetorical device of polysyndeton  intriguing and use it probably more than I should.

How about you?

Monday Metaphor: Epithet: “A rose by any other name… ‘

Even if a person has a perfectly nice name, someone else is going to come along a give him a nickname. There are many reasons for this. Often, when a baby is born, the parents will talk baby talk to him and this extends into a nickname. Witness the many “Bubba”s in the South. That kind of nickname is given out of affection. An attributed, added, or byname is officially an epithet. It brings out a characteristic of the person, or distinguishes him from someone else of the same name, or is used to elevate poetic diction.

Faith McFadden, On Suite 101, says, “The uses of epithets are endless, and they can be a writer’s best friend. For not only do they allow a writer to vary how he refers to a character, but also they can create a special emphasis on the character to whom the epithet belongs.”

There are a number of different kinds of epithets. It is believed by scholars that Homer used epithets as a mnemonic device. Recall “rosy-fingered” dawn, “swift-footed” Achilles, and the “resourceful Odysseus, master mariner.” And not to forget the ladies: there were “lovely-haired” Helen and “white-armed Andromache” the wife of Hector, “tamer of horses and the shepherd of the people.”

John Keats honored Homer by using the epic poet’s own device in his sonnet “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”:

                                    Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
                                    That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne.

In children’s stories, “Little Goody Two Shoes” (which might have been written by Oliver Goldsmith) is a story about an orphan girl who has only one shoe. When she gets a second shoe, she exclaims, “Two shoes!” and is thereafter called “Little Goody Two Shoes.” After working hard as a teacher, she marries well and is considered a worthy person.

Now days, the epithet “goody two-shoes” is usually used in a disparaging way, to denote a person who does good only for show. Other disparaging slurs have been used to denote particular groups, such as people of color, or of a specific religion, or place of origin.

Recently a new edition of Huck Finn by Mark Twain was published with the racial epithets altered or erased. This caused some controversy among purists; even black students in my granddaughter’s high school English classes felt the change was an overreaction—a plethora of political correctness.

The article in this link deals with ways to portray ethnic differences.


This is a tall tale excerpt from (with a bit of hyperbole):

“Davy Crockett done married the prettiest, the sassiest, the toughest gal in the West, don’t ya know! Her name was Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind and she was all that and then some! She was tougher than a grumpy she-bear and faster than a wildcat with his tail on fire and sweeter than honey, so that even hornets would let he use their nest for a Sunday-go-to-Meeting hat.”


Sobriquet, a synonym for nickname, “but a nickname which is familiar enough such that it can be used in place of a real name without the need of explanation.” (Wikipedia)

I use the term in my story, “The Miracle of the Elephants”:

Ranil ran around to the driver side of the vehicle. “If you’re who I think you are, mister, you got here just in time.”

            “And who do you think I am, youngster?” asked the man with smiling eyes.

            “I think you are Mr. Elliepooh. . . . I mean, Mr. Karl Wald.”

            The man laughed out loud at the sound of his soubriquet. “If you know who I am, then you must be Ranil.” The man held out his hand and Ranil, a broad smile on his face, put his brown hand into the white one.

            “Welcome to Sri Lanka, sir.”

The Great Gilly Hopkins, the central character in the book by the same name, is an eleven-year-old girl who is in foster care, having been abandoned by her mother. The mother is a flower child of the 1970s who names her daughter Galadriel, after a character in The Lord of the Ring books by J. R. R. Tolkien. Gilly chooses her own moniker.

Some epithets are of the necessary type. The help to distinguish persons, places, or things so they are not confused with others. Giving monarchs epithets is of this type. For instance, King Richard the Lionhearted, Catherine the Great and Frederick the Great, Charles the Bald and Charles the Fat. Geoffrey III of Anjou was known as the Bearded.

Famous people:

George Herman Ruth: Babe

William Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon

Bruce Springsteen: The Boss

Louis Armstrong: Satchmo

Elizabeth I: Good Queen Bess

John Wayne: The Duke

Famous places:

New York: The Big Apple

New Orleans: The Big Easy

Ireland: The Emerald Isle

Chicago: The Windy City

Detroit: Mo Town

Jaipur, India: Pink City

Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA: The Twin Cities

Pseudonyms are often used to hide an individual’s real identity, as with writers’ pen names. One of the most famous pen names is that of Mark Twain for Samuel Taylor Clemens. A children’s writer who used pseudonyms is Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss or Theo LeSieg, Rosetta Stone, Theophrastus Seuss, and Peter Pessimist. The name Ellery Queen was used to identify both the sleuth and the author of the Ellery Queen novels. But Ellery Queen was actually two people: Daniel Nathan, alias Frederic Dannay, and his cousin, Manford Lepofsky, alias Manfred Bennington Lee. (Don’t know when they used the aliases).

Though a rose by any other name is still a rose, using epithets in your writing can add interest and variety.

Monday Metaphor: Paradox; It Is, and It Isn’t, or Is It?

A paradox is a statement or event that seems to contradict itself, though it is still true, or at least makes sense.

In A dictionary of Literary Terms, (3rd ed. Blackwell, 1991), J. A. Cuddon explains the origin: “Originally a paradox was merely a view which contradicted accepted opinion. By round about the middle of the 16th c. the word has acquired the commonly accepted meaning it now has: an apparently self-contradictory (even absurd) statement which, on closer inspection, is found to contain a truth reconciling the conflicting opposites. . . .”                                                    

Paradox occurs often in children’s literature, even that for the very young, as is seen in Betty Ann Schwartz’s What makes a Rainbow? In this board book, a little rabbit’s mother suggests he ask his friends to answer his question. Each animal replies with a color—the color that is associated with the particular animal, “green” for the grasshopper, for instance. By the end of the book, Little Rabbit learns that besides colors it also takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.

The child in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Bed in Summer” (found in A Child’s Garden of Verses) finds the long summer days and the long winter nights to be a paradox:


In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candlelight.

In summer, quite the other way,

I have to go to bed by day.


I have to go to bed and see

The birds still hopping on the tree,

Or hear the grown-up people’s feet

Still going past me in the street.


And does it not seem hard to you,

When all the sky is clear and blue,

And I should like so much to play,

To have to go to bed by day?


The paradox of Jessica Aday Kennedy’s Marta’s Garguantian Wings (Guardian Angel Publishing) is that the wings that Marta thinks are a liability are really an asset.

The antics of Artemis Fowl (paradoxical name: does this mean he hunts for foul people?) keep the Middle Grade Reader hopping among alien robots, fairies and dwarfs and imps, multiple personalities, and real stuff like global warming. In Eoin Cofler’s “Time Paradox,” Artemis (now fifteen years of age) and his friends  journey to the past to correct a mistake Artemis made about eight years earlier in his eventful life. His mother has contracted a rare disease that can only be cured by an extract from the brain of an extinct lemur, and ironically, that extinction was hastened by none other than Artemis himself. It will be interesting to see how Artemis battles with himself.

Paradox abounds in adult poetry and fiction, also.

We find in the Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson many examples.


On the bleakness of my lot

            Bloom I strove to raise.

Late, my acre of a rock

            Yielded grape and maize.


Soil of flint if steadfast tilled

            Will reward the hand;

Seed of palm by Lybian sun

            Fructified in sand.



I many times thought peace had come,

When peace was far away;

As wrecked men deem they sight the land

At centre of the sea,


And struggle slacker, but to prove,

As hopelessly as I,

How many the fictitious shores

Before the harbor lie.


There’s the “rule” painted on the barn in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” The idea of being “more equal” is paradoxical, but Napoleon oppresses the other farm animals; he must think he’s more equal than they.

Consider also the paradox of Captain Beatty in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Books have been banned, and Beatty’s job is to destroy any books he finds, but he is obviously well-read because he surrounds himself with quotations from great literature that he uses to convince people that destroying books is the right thing to do.

Shakespeare was the master of paradox.

In Romeo and Juliet, Benvolio speaks,

“One fire burns out another’s burning, 
One pain is lessen’d by another’s anguish.”

And Juliet: “Parting is such sweet sorrow. . .”

This brings up a sub-genre of paradox, the oxymoron, a figure of speech wherein contradictory statements reside side by side.

In Macbeth, the witches say, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

The Paradox of Catch-22
“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.”
(Joseph Heller, Catch-22, 1961)

“Catch – 22” has become an almost every day term.

My story, “A Pet for Foley,” (knowonder magazine, Sept. 2009) turns on a paradox. Here is the beginning and end of that story.

Foley was a Springer spaniel puppy with white and brown and while fur. He lived on a farm until a nice lady came and took him home in her car, his floppy ears streaming like feathers in the wind. The lady gave him food and water and a doghouse in the fenced back yard.

After he explored his yard, Foley felt lonely. “What I need is a pet,” he said.

            (Foley meets three animals he asks to be his pet. The squirrel and the blue

            bird agree, but things go wrong; it just doesn’t work out. The mole is not

            acceptable, so Foley doesn’t   even ask him. Now he’s alone again).

Foley lay down with his head on his front paws and thought about his problem. Who could he ask to be his pet? Just then an orange tabby strolled into the back yard. Foley jumped up and ran over to greet the cat. He smiled and said, “Will you be my pet? We can play and have fun together.”

“Sorry,” said Nutmeg, licking his back with dignity and not sounding very sorry at all. “I already belong to Jessica and here she comes now.”

A yellow school bus came down the street. By the screeching sound of the bus’s brakes, it must have stopped in front of Foley’s house. In a few minutes a pretty little girl opened the back door and ran down the steps. The cat purred and arched his back up against her legs. She bend down and scratched him behind the ears. “Hi, Nutmeg,” she said. Then she ran over to Foley. She sat down on the grass and hugged him. “Foley, I am so glad that you have come to live with us and be my pet.”

Foley’s ears stood up in surprise.

He and Jessica were soon having fun. They played Frisbee, fetch, tug-o-war, and tumble-in-the-grass. The treat Jessica gave Foley tasted delicious—much better than worms and grubs!

Life in Foley’s new home was going to be wonderful. He knew he would never be lonely again.

“I guess I don’t need a pet. . .” Foley told himself. I AM a pet.”


What’s your favorite paradox in literature?



Monday Metaphor: Personification: It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

It’s quite an imaginative feat for a writer to turn an inanimate object, an abstract concept, or animal into a person. But it can be done through Personification, the technique of giving human qualities to something not human. This method of word play is also referred to as Anthropomorphism. Prosopopeia means “giving face,” as in the face of a mountain or the eye of a hurricane.

This picture is the Personification of Constance and Fortitude.

Ancient Greek gods often had human characteristics. The Muses are among my favorites. They collectively represent inspiration for the arts. I’ve always wondered about Urania, the Muse of Astronomy. But I think she is a Muse because the Greeks considered mathematics an art, and astronomy uses math to figure out the heavens. In fact, all of the sciences contain some art and many scientists have been known to be inspired.

“[The Muses] are all of one mind, their hearts are set upon song and their spirit is free from care. He is happy whom the Muses love. For though a man has sorrow and grief in his soul, yet when the servant of the Muses sings, at once he forgets his dark thoughts and remembers not his troubles. Such is the holy gift of the Muses to men.”

The Mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne, is the personification of memory. It makes sense because all of the arts require the student to remember vast amounts of facts and practice in order to become proficient.

It was a convention of the Epic Poets to invoke a request of the Muses to inspire them to create the most beautiful poem worthy of their subject.

From ancient times to the present, writers have employed the metaphor of personification.

In the title of this blog post, I am referencing the movie version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Most people (who like old movies) are familiar with that scene. Mary’s scientist gave life to a creature he put together from body parts. In the preface to the novel, Mary says: “I have thus endeavoured to preserve the truth of the elementary principles of human nature. . .” Her monster has both good and bad qualities.

In “talking thing” stories, such as The Brave Little Toaster, by Thomas Disch, it’s the household appliances that are given human characteristics. Their quest to find their original owner has the same adventures and perils as that of a human’s quest.

In Bill Kirk’s The Sum of Our Parts: Circulation Celebration, (Guardian Angel Publishing), the heart comes alive in Eugene Rubel’s amusing illustrations.

My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Alison, had the class memorize Carl Sandburg’s Fog.

“The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.”

 In “talking animal” stories, such as E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Charlotte and Wilber and the others talk among themselves, but the people around them do not have the ability to hear them. {I’ll never forget the day I read Charlotte’s Web to my young children. My husband came home from work and found the three of us sitting on the sofa crying. A writer with a deft hand can make the reader believe; and White made us believe Wilber when he said, “I don’t want to die.”}  

Closer to home, you might know these people personally: Mr. Clean, Aunt Jemima, Cap’n Crunch, Tony the Tiger, and The Jolly Green Giant. And you’ve bought these products:

Goldfish, the snack that smiles back, Huggies, the diapers that hug supremely, and Kleenex, the tissue that says “bless you.” And you know “you’re in good hands with Allstate.” I like this personification of the printer: “The printer spit out more copies than I needed.” (on MissSpot’s website).

Sometimes just attributing a name seems to bestow humanlike qualities.

Death, The Grim Reaper, a hooded character draped in black robes or a skeleton.

Father Time, an old bearded man with a scythe. 

Mother Nature, countless guises.

Aesop’s fables are full of personified characters. One of the most poignant stories is that of the lion and the mouse. The mouse gnaws off the ropes tying the lion to a tree after the lion had done him a good turn. “Little friends may prove great friends.” or “One good turn deserves another.”

Remember the doll, Mrs. Beasley, on Family Affair? and the horse, Mr. Ed. And how about the mule named Mr. Bascom in Earnest J. Gaines’ Just Like a Tree? Here’s the way the short story begins:

Pa hit him on the back and he jeck in them chains like he pulling, but ever’body in the wagon know he ain’t, and Pa hit him on the back again. He jeck again like he pulling, but even Big Red know he ain’t doing a thing.

“That’s why I’ go’n get a horse,” Pa say. “He’ll kill that other mule. Get up there, Mr. Bascom.”


In Alice Through the Lookingglass, by Lewis Carroll, the poem, “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” has these lines:

“The sun was shining on the sea,

Shining with all his might:

He did his very best to make

The billows smooth and bright—

And this was odd, because it was

The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,

Because she thought the sun

Had got no business to be there

After the day was done—

‘It’s very rude of him,’ she said,

‘To come and spoil the fun.’”

Here is my poem, “A Year in the Orchard” (published in Parents and Children Together Online).



Barbara Bockman


I am the rain. I drop. I drop. I drop.
My waters gently flow
And help the buds to grow.
Listen to my song: Plop! Plop! Plop!


I am the sun. I shine. I shine. I shine.
I warm down to the root
And sweeten up the fruit.
When it is ripe, you may dine.


I am the wind. I sigh. I sigh. I sigh.
The leaves are now brown.
I blow the fruit down.
Would you like to bake a pie?


I am the snow. I fall. I fall. I fall.
I am silent and bright.
I paint the trees white.
I am soft as a cotton ball.

The following poem was published on as a project of a student for students:


By Autumn

Satin dreams of India.
Satin dreams of being
made into a beautiful sari.
A warm, Wonderful sari
Worn on an
Indian Princess.
Swaying in the wind.
Satin tell us to be soft and
gentle like her.


Have you used personification in your work? Would you share it with us?

P.S.  Happy Birthday to my daughter Jenny


Monday Metaphors: Aptronyms, Names that Fit


These are real people:

Russell Brain, a neurologist

Reggie Corner, cornerback for the Buffalo Bills

Margaret Court, a tennis player

Jules Angst, a German professor of psychiatry; published works about anxiety

Sara Blizzard, a meteorologist for the BBC

William Wordsworth, a poet

When I started reading Marilyn vos Savant, the Parade columnist who has the world’s highest recorded IQ, I thought it was a pseudonym. But no, that’s her well-suited name.

And if you are an avid listener of Car Talk on NPR, you remember the ridiculous aptronyms Click and Clack attribute to their staff:

Marianna Trench is the Director of Deep Sea Research.

Stan Beyerman is the Director of Country Music.

Anita Hammer is the Director of Delicate Electronics Repair.

Juan Demerritt is the Staff Disciplinarian.

Vera Similitude is the Staff Forger.

Dr. Jean Poole is the Staff Geneticist.

Luke A. Boyd is an Ornithology Intern.

An aptronym is a name aptly suited to whatever it is applied, whether a person (real or not), place, or thing. In fiction, it has been used to define a character’s personality, profession, or other quality associated with that character. Probably the book that most easily comes to mind for containing aptronyms is John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), with names such as Mr. Talkative and Mr. Worldly Wiseman.

In Medieval Morality Plays, which were the church’s way of teaching virtues, the stories left no question as to the qualities being portrayed. The characters were allegorical figures named precisely for the virtue or vice they represented. Some of the characters in Everyman, the best known Morality play, are Everyman, Death, Good-Deeds, Angel, Knowledge, Beauty, Discretion, and Strength.

Some of my favorite are in Dickens: the horrible brother and sister in David Copperfield, the Murdstones; Wilkins Micawber, whose financial difficulties land him in debtor’s prison; and the affectionate but slightly deranged Richard Babley, “Mr. Dick.”

The writer can be blatant with his use of aptronyms or subtle. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald meant to be both descriptive and ironic when he named his heroine “Daisy” in The Great Gatsby.

In looking over the list of Guardian Angel Publishing’s books, I noticed these aptronyms:

The Jumbo Shrimp of Dire Straits by Kristen and Kevin Collier. An ominous sounding place.

Kai Strand’s The Weaver  begins: “Tucked in a lush valley between two snow-capped mountains was the village of The Tales. Those who lived in the village were known as Weavers. Each person in The Tales could tell stories about anything at any time, and they often did. Prose, poetry, limericks or yarns; they told stories of all types and styles.” Mary Wordsmith is the main character.

Stilts the Stork by Dixie Philips. Stilts has stilt-like long skinny legs and she makes a funny mistake. She gathers golf balls thinking they are eggs.

Susan Batson gave apt names to two of her characters, the protagonists of Gilly the Seasick Fish and Sparkie: a Star Afraid of the Dark.


In my “Bear in Mind” (Characters Magazine) my main character, who is a type of Goldilocks character is named Tressa. Her adventure parallels that of Goldilocks but more or less in reverse.

Also, in my “How Rank Snodgrass Got My Apple Pie” (Long Story Short), the villain is a loathsome fella.

You might say the writer is using Nominative determinism when he assigns meaningful names to his characters. This is the theory that a person’s name influences his life—profession, personality, choices, and not just in literature, but in real life, as well. Carl Jung asked the question: “Are these whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name . . . or are they ‘meaningful coincidences’?” but he never answered it.

Philosophy aside, it is a useful and succinct way for a writer to add color, humor, irony, or information by hinting that the name has deeper meaning.

Do you have any favorite aptronyms?

Monday Metaphors: Over the Top with Hyperbole

How does a writer create emphasis and evoke strong feeling from the reader in describing an emotion or event or object that is almost too fantastic to believe? She uses the rhetorical device known as hyperbole. “Hyperbole” comes from the Greek word meaning “exaggeration.”

Exaggeration can be effective in both comedy and drama. Or it can make the reader roll his eyes. “This bag weighs a ton,” is of the eye-rolling variety. In everyday speech, a husband might say, “I waited an eternity for my wife to get ready.” Or, “You could have knocked me over with a feather.” We’ve all heard, “I nearly died laughing,” and “He’s got tons of money.” We use these Over the Top Expressions often and they have become clichés.

Writers want to avoid clichés in most instances. The goal of the writer is to add fun or emphasis by creating appropriate hyperbole, enhancing the tone of the story. Hyperbole links writer and reader in a conspiracy that says, this is too good not to use, but it’s not to be taken literally. Even though it is implausible, the exaggeration gets the point across when a simple metaphor seems too weak.  

Many great writer have employed hyperbole.

In the Folk Tale, Paul Bunyan, it took five storks to deliver the baby giant.

Homer. The Iliad

Mars roared as loudly as nine or ten thousand men in the thick of a fight, and the Achaeans and Trojans were struck with panic, so terrible was the cry he raised.”

James Thurber. “University Days.”

Thurber talks about his dismal showing in military drilling when he was a student at Ohio State. He seems to have driven his drill instructor to hyperbole. “I was no good at all. Once General Littlefield, who was commandant of the cadet corps, popped up in front of me during regimental drill and snapped. ‘You are the main trouble with this university!’ I think he meant that my type was the main trouble with the university but he may have meant me individually.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Concord Hymn.”

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood

And fired the shot heard round the world.”

Ah, this takes me back to the seventh grade and Mrs. Alison’s English class.


Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Hundred Years of Solitude.

He was a fugitive from all the plagues and catastrophes that had ever lashed mankind.”


William Shakespeare. Othello.

“…On horror’s head horrors accumulate;

Do deeds to make heaven weep, all earth amazed;

For nothing canst thou to damnation add

Greater than that.”

Hyperbole is also effective in literature for children.

C. Collodi. The Adventures of Pinocchio.

“He cried all night, and dawn found him still there, though his tears had dried and only hard, dry sobs shook his wooden frame. But they were so loud that they could be heard by the faraway hills…”

In my “The Case of the Missing Mascot,” (published in Characters Magazine), the principal, Mrs. Gardner, gives Karen permission to search the school for the missing plush bear.

            “The bell rang and a few of the kids went home. They were the ones who didn’t want to see the team get ground into the dirt. Most everybody stayed to give the team moral support in its darkest hour.

            “As I left the gym, the Oak Hill team arrived. That was when I remembered the key to the trophy case. I checked its nail in Mrs. Gardner’s office. It wasn’t there.

            “About an hour and a million classrooms later, I returned to the scene of the crime, empty-handed.”

The very premise behind Bruce Coville’s My Teacher Flunked the Planet is hyperbolic in nature. The whole planet?! What fun.

Let me know of any hyperboles you have used in your work.

Well, I have to go now. I’m so hungry I could eat an elephant.

Monday Metaphor: Euphemism, Coming in the Back Door

It’s a good thing we know how to use euphemisms otherwise we might embarrass ourselves or offend somebody. A euphemism is a delicate way of getting around saying outright the very thing we want to say yet conveying the essential idea by using a substitute word or expression. In other words, we come in the back door, but we are in.

Euphemisms are not generally used in stories for very young children because young children are literally minded, and need to call a spade a spade. As boys and girls get into the tens, they enjoy a play of words and like to be in on the joke.

Bruce Coville’s books are filled with wry humor. In My Teacher Flunked the Planet, the alien is talking to the narrator about the possibility of activating the button that would destroy the Earth. He says,

            “It takes a complex series of secret command to activate it.”

“And if that series of commands is used?” asked Susan Simmons, who was standing beside me.

            Broxholm turned and gazed at the image of Earth. “Stardust,” he whispered. (1)

Under what circumstances have people found it necessary to use euphemisms? The most common example that comes to mind is the use of the expression “passed away” to mean “died.”

For some people it is emotionally painful to say that “a person died.” So the expression is useful both for the teller and the listener. “Terminal illness” is a less upsetting way of saying someone is dying.  But saying someone “kicked the bucket” is hardly more delicate than “died.”

“I gotta see a man about a dog,” means “Excuse, me; I’m outta here, but I’m not going to tell you my business.” It can be said with a real or implied “wink” giving the impression that the listener know what the business is.

In Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms, Ralph Keyes traces euphemisms back to the church’s attempt “to avoid blasphemy, honor taboos, and make nice.” (2) Ostensibly, it means that the culture is becoming more civilized and polished.

Euphemisms are useful not only in everyday speech, but they are used to advantage by businesses in advertizing (as in referring to a grave marker as a “monument” and a used car as being “pre-owned”) and by the military to soften harsh reality, as in “friendly fire” when we accidentally fire on our allies.

There are bodily function euphemisms, such as, “to relieve oneself,” and the expression my mother-in-law used, “to shed a tear.” In many movies, the ladies excused themselves to “powder their noses.” Parents usually teach such acceptable turns of phrase to children in order to communicate in public without being crude or coarse. It’s one way of teaching children to be polite, so it has an important function.

In his The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald names the community of old money East Egg and the community of the newly rich West Egg—West Egg being the “less fashionable” of the two. (3)

In The Giver, Lois Lowry uses the term “Birthmother” not to mean the loving caregiver, but simply someone who produces children. (4)

In my “Do You Have a Funny Bone?” I used “funny bone” as a euphemism for “sense of humor.” (5)

Here’s more from “Food Fight,” the story that takes place in an academy for all kinds of ghoulish characters. The vampire, Bram, is speaking. “The lunchroom ladies were lined up ready to serve us. A zombie loaded my plate with Mystery Meal # 64.” “Mystery Meal” is a term that students love to use when referring to cafeteria food. Like “passed on,” its hidden meaning is commonly accepted. (6)

The Greek root of euphemism means “to use auspicious words.” But the listener should beware of “doublespeak,” lest he fail to discern the difference between the spoken auspicious word and the hidden meaning.


(1)   Coville, Bruce. My Teacher Flunked the Planet.

(2)   Keyes, Ralph. Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms.

(3)   Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby.

(4)   Lowry, Lois. The Giver.

(5)   Bockman, Barbara. “Do You Have a Funny Bone?” STORIES FOR CHILDREN.

(6)   Bockman, Barbara. “Food Fight.” LONG STORY SHORT.

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