Friday, July 15, 2022

A Few Words

"The Remarkables" New Zealand

Regularly counted on but little noticed are some words that appear to have not much meaning, but a lot of use. In English, one of the most innocuous words, the, is thought to be the word that we use the most.

We may take the article, the, for granted partly because it delivers no meaning by itself. Yet some estimates put it at 5% of every 100 words used. Considering that each of us uses an estimated 20,000 words actively (Schumacher 2020), this means just three letters carry quite a load in our communication. The way function words like the work is specific to a context, and some languages get along just fine without the or an equivalent, or use an affix to a word, or a demonstrative in its place.

When you look at some uses of the, it's clear why we like to use it so much. The helps us understand what's being referred to. It's used to help quantify, for example, "the slice of pie." It signals something special about "the place," rather than just being "a place." It makes distinction between a lapse of memory any of us might have, which nonetheless causes grief to friends, family, and the person who experience it, and concern that this foretells the lapse of memory. 

Shakespeare has us ponder which King is referred to in Hamlet when the guard utters "'Long live the King,' soon followed by the apparition of the ghost: 'Looks it not like the King?'" This is discussed in a piece from the BBC listed in the references below, which points out that the serves in this case as "a kind of 'hook'... [used] make us quizzical, a bit uneasy even." As the author of that discussion points out, the also adds substance to a phrase like "the man in the Moon," with the naming presuming that "he" exists. (Jackson 2011)

In this direction, we sometimes use the to dignify or attribute power and authority, as in the President, yet omission of the might have different effects in different nations. The British simply say "Yes, Prime Minister," both for directly addressing the Prime Minister and the for the celebrated television series of that name. On the other hand, people in the United States preface addressing "the" President with "Mr.," or in the future "Madam."

In other situations, we use the to give concepts gravitas, as in "the climate crisis" or "the silent spring," whether or not all details are known or knowable. In relation to interpreting the United States Constitution, the media and popular usage have probably unwittingly dignified a current crop of Associate Justices within the nation's Supreme Court by referring to them as "the originalists."

But the, like all words, needs to be understood in the linguistic and broader social context, and "the Founders" surely have more dignity, significance, and authority than the so-called "originalists." Both those "originalists" and others pay lip-service, at the very least, to the historical significance and greater wisdom of "the Founders." It must therefore be willful blindness of the current propagators of originalism that enables them to conveniently overlook the recorded suggestions from “the Founders” that the Constitution would need to be interpreted, adjusted, or changed to accommodate unforeseen or unforeseeable circumstances.

Associate Justice Scalia was politely but firmly invited to explore this broader view as long ago as 2010 when he visited Australia--by Justice Michael Kirby, formerly of the High Court of Australia. I mention this in my recent book, in the chapter on Kirby, at pp.181-2 available at his website [here]--Kirby's complete "public conversation" with Scalia is referenced below.

Another word much-used in some public talk is very. It's used to provide emphasis or assert significancePseudo-populists especially overuse very--probably because they're attracted to its emphasis of the extreme, without referencing anything specific. They seem to hope that accumulated uses of very will make what they're talking about have greater importance than what's merited.

More favored by some public figures is remarkably. This seems to resonate with significance or substance in ways that very does not. The versatility of remarkable and its variants is as the word itself denotes, provided it's not overused or used in ways that make the person using it seem "stuffy."

At its root meaning, "remark..." reminds of situations that involve people, in a way that very does not. When we talk about making remarks, rather than "speaking" or "presenting" to people, for example, we infer more of a conversational experience. Other nuance, like some sense of scale, is wrapped into remarkably, which the vagueness of very lacks.

The conservative Australian politician, Sir Robert Menzies, drew on the nuances of remarkable and its variants with his remarkable speaking ability--engaging audiences and enabling him to retain the role of prime minister for almost twenty years. Against the fears that he stoked about the disunity of his opponents, he recommended the progress accomplished through the stability of his own governments by pointing out to voters that "we have enjoyed in Australia 12 years of remarkable growth and remarkable prosperity, with a remarkably high level of employment, notwithstanding small occasions..." 

Likewise, remarkable was favored by Labor prime ministers noted for making more substantive commentary, like Gough Whitlam speaking to the Washington Press Club, "In the wake of the remarkable events in Indo-China..." or Paul Keating in his Redfern Park Speech, "...we can build a prosperous and remarkably harmonious multicultural society..." Justice Michael Kirby, in his law reform advocacy, similarly uses the word for emphasis, "...bring home to us all the remarkable changes in the makeup of our country."
And once alerted to the strength of remarkable, it seems like the word pops up in many places--rather like the owners of the Volkswagen "Beetle" would notice that Volkswagens were everywhere. Apparently I've caught the habit for my recent book at least, using remarkable and its variants 13 times, in addition to quoting others.

But it's challenging to find a greater visualization of the power of such words than the New Zealanders' name for the mountain range featured in the opening photo to this blog post. Geologists will point out that geologically older mountains are weathered and worn down over time. It's believed Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis, only survived erosion because it collapsed into a chamber of molten granite magma. New Zealand's tallest mountain, Aoraki/Mt. Cook, is more than 2.7 times higher than Ben Nevis, being among the many mountains thrust up through New Zealand's "newer" geological activity.

Of the words discussed here, it only takes two to spotlight the grandeur and scale of the mountain range neatly and truly as The Remarkables.


Peter Jackson (2011), “100 words of English: How far can it get you?" 30 March, BBC News, 

Michael D. Kirby (2010), The Internalisation of Domestic Law and Its Consequences, Public Conversation between The Hon Justice Antonin Scalia, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America and The Hon Michael Kirby, Justice of the High Court of Australia, 1996-2009, 9 February, Website Speech No. 2441, pp. 1-21, 

Hélène Schumacher (2020). "Is this the most powerful word in the English language?" 31st December, BBC,

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Vive Le Tour de France

Tour de France, Stage 5, Masny, 2022

Le Tour 2022 commenced less than a week ago. Followers and fans on television or along roadways of the route will inhale a spectacle of cycling for more than a couple of weeks yet. Each nuance of tactic, tragedy, and triumph will be a shared experience.

For many years, veteran commentators Phil Liggett and the late Paul Sherwen personified the cyclists as "dancing on the pedals" or "reaching into a suitcase of courage"--their words immortalizing the human struggle that's played out on the race route through the European landscapes of villages, architecture, ancient and newer cities, mountains, and bucolic countryside.

Le Tour puts a spotlight on fitness, endurance, courage, skill, ingenuity, competition, cooperation, camaraderie, and more, while sharing a fascination of human beings with visual spectacle. We can all recall scenes or occasions that capture our attention or imagination. Many remain sharply in our memory. It's a natural inclination of human beings to think visually. 

What catches attention or what we think important (visually or otherwise) we'll even say is "top of mind" or "front of mind." It might be our very own "red, red rose" or "road not taken" that will take shape as the image we see, but it will be a red rose or a road.

We frequently use the visual power of a variety of words for readers and listeners to see people, creatures, actions, places, objects, colors, shapes, events, processes, concepts, and other "stuff" not on this list. And the visual words we choose can also infer how we think about or experience other senses.

Each time the leading teams of cyclists and the peloton whisk along their winding pathways of history, I recall the fortresses on hilltops across France, blown up on Richelieu's orders to centralize the power of the monarchy, through to 160 years later "the mob tearing down, stone by stone, the hated fortress-prison at what remains in today's Paris as the name, Place de la Bastille"--bookmarking the beginnings and the close of France's literary Golden Age of the Enlightenment, and the foundation of the Republic.

Each year Le Tour emerges on the calendar as three weeks of anticipated spectacle, and provides a visual experience that reliably "floods memory" with the significance of France's contributions to western civilization--especially the evolution of a worldwide commitment of free peoples to give expression to Liberté, égalité, and fraternité. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Angel to Grifter to...??

by Guido Reni (1575-1642) Santa Maria della Concerzione. 
This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

In 1952, the iconic educator Robert Maynard Hutchins completed publication of the substantial, multi-volume Great Books of the Western World. These include two volumes discussing a hundred or so Great Ideas, as well as detailing references to these ideas in the Great Books. This has special interest as the United States continues to travel its extended exposé of the white-ants of democracy--and, who knows, perhaps their eventual accountability?

Reading now what Hutchins and his editors compiled seven decades ago offers some insight about the values in prominence then, compared to the present. The complete Great Books was exploratory and ambitious in many ways, but it inevitably incorporated some assumptions of that time that are not acceptable today, including sexist language and the conscious exclusion of Eastern thought. 

Importantly though, and more positively, the Great Ideas that are discussed in Volumes I and II, along with the entire 54 volumes, illuminate many personal values considered important to daily life--like wisdom, courage, prudence, and justice. Unsurprisingly, not listed are the modern media's five main preoccupations, of "Disaster, Celebrity, Crime, Sex, and Violence."

The Great Ideas commence with "Angel," then continue alphabetically through "Good and Bad," "Government" and so on, to eventually wrap up with "World." "Grifters" don't rate a mention, although we know from other sources that, along with "Charlatans" and "Crooks," these certainly found their way into all sorts of places, including government then and now. 

As early as the "Cs" the trend is clear, as "Citizen" is given its due, along with "Constitution, Courage, Custom and Convention." Publishing so soon after the world's narrow escape from the domination of notorious tyrants in Europe and Asia, Hutchins and his editors also thought "Democracy, Dialectic, and Education" were each worth individual attention.

Further along alphabetically, "Happiness" is priority enough to capture 26 pages of exploration (pp. 684-710). The separate treatments of "Law" and "Liberty" collect 50 pages more--before "Life and Death," "Logic," and "Love" take 67 pages--to close out the first of two volumes on what Great Ideas mattered to civilization. You get the idea, so to speak.

The second volume also has interesting reminders on perspective, including "Oligarchy, Principle, and Punishment," before explaining the values in "Reasoning, Rhetoric, and Sense," or contrastingly in "Sin and Slavery." Maybe it's not entirely coincidence that "Truth" and "Tyranny" are alphabetical neighbors, while described together are "Virtue and Vice," as well as "War and Peace." 

It was something of a relief to reach, at Great Idea number 101, a 16-page exploration of "Wisdom," before concluding the volumes with an ambitious explanation of "World." Much here that is clarifying. For example, whether for past or present concerns, in a nod to wisdom, many of us will agree with Aquinas that "Free choice is part of...dignity."

Thursday, June 16, 2022

How Anti-social Are Social Media?

by Gerd Altmann is licensed under Pixabay.

While legislators and the providers of social media platforms quibble, serious questions continuously emerge about the "social" value or otherwise of social media. How much the social media harm social cohesion is a concern of pundits and analysts, and many others of us. A New Yorker article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus on June 3 [here] surveys the ongoing tussle over these serious questions.

In developing democracies or for push-back against autocrats, social media allow people to share information and grow group cohesion. Elsewhere, questions are often asked, like whether social media "make people angrier... more... polarized... create political echo chambers... increase... violence... [or] enable foreign governments to increase political dysfunction in the United States and other democracies?" 

Or, whether social media leave us "particularly vulnerable to confirmation bias, or the propensity to fix upon evidence that shores up our prior beliefs?" Or, whether "social media might be more of an amplifier of other things going on?"

All good questions deserving better answers. But more simply, I would ask: If social media executives really believe that what they do is so purely a social good, why do so many Silicon Valley parents, who manage many of these companies, ration the amount of time their offspring devote to social media? Can't recall this advice being urged on the rest of us with any consistency by social media executives, their lobbyists, or industry representatives.

Some studies of social media effects are inconclusive, disputed, or ongoing (forever?). Meanwhile, teen suicide, gun violence, and political dysfunction undeniably intersect with social media daily. 

Of all the questions mentioned in the New Yorker article, perhaps the most important is whether society can really wait around another five or ten years for more literature reviews?

A variety of individuals and organizations keep exploiting social media. This is serious value for the companies providing the platforms, who spend substantially on talented specialists to develop the algorithms and drive up the use of social media--at least, where western-styled salaries, bonuses, and stock options are paid! But social media entice serious activity by trolls, zealots, and dilettantes too! 

Of course, it's the people using social media who are really exploited. In exchange for their time and using a bit of intelligence to acquire some know-how, social media users can reach a variety of people for a variety of purposes--while also stimulating considerable dopamine in the brain, to help fulfill the social media companies' main purpose, of getting more people to occupy more time on social media. 

Minimally, should society make social media providers abide by requirements equivalent to what govern mass media? 

How long will it be before legislators do something about any of these matters, instead of muddling along at buggy speed in a nanosecond world?

Monday, May 30, 2022

Making It So

Mountain Bluebird
Sialia currucoides by Elaine R. Wilson is licensed under CCA-SA 2.5 Generic

You are

to the violin

as a bee

to the flower,

bringing continuous life

to Spring.

Perhaps also honoring this violinist's virtuoso performance from a time before Covid-19, in the early morning today, full-throated chirrups and calls floated through the open window, making another springtime symphony.

These performances fittingly commemorate on Memorial Day the many who gave all, to provide opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to each of us.

In an effort to sustain such commitment going forward, almost eighty-one years ago during the bleak beginnings to World War II, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed the Atlantic Charterinterestingly, never signed yet continuously honoredand ever since serving as a foundation for ongoing alliance of democracies against autocratic rivals.

With this bond "updated" and reaffirmed on June 10 last year, both Britain and the United States agreed to adhere to "the rules-based international order," focus on the "climate crisis," and "protect biodiversity"as well as calling on Western allies to "oppose interference through disinformation or other malign influences, including in elections."

The New York Times described this as "an effort to stake out a grand vision for global relationships in the 21st century." Unquestionably, and as irrepressible as this morning's symphony, it also reaffirmed commitment for the liberties of thought, speech, and association to continuously grow. 

Once experienced, nothing else will do.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Much in Verbs

by William Shakespeare
by Alfred W. Elmore (1815-1881). This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

Shakespeare's play Much Ado about Nothing lightly explores human realities and impressions, delivering insights or delights about both. A good deal of repartee or turn-taking among characters in the play relies on verbs or verbal functions, to trigger the nuggets of humor or some wisdom--with quotable quotes like "...wooing, wedding and repenting is as a Scotch jig." 

And this play is only one of the many places in literature, in history, and in life that the functions of verbs matter more than we might first notice. Verbs do much beyond what they denote.

From ancient to contemporary history, barbarians have peppered their propaganda with action verbs, seeking to be remembered as "Great," despite bloodthirsty conquests. In 480 BC Xerxes boasted in a tone too recently echoed, "My intent is to throw a bridge over the Hellespont and march an army through Europe against Greece, that thereby I may obtain vengeance..." 

Regardless, history recorded a very large difference between the promise and performance, after Xerxes assembled his reportedly huge army and failed to conquer Greece. The famous historian, Herodotus, seems to consider Xerxes a superstitious and bloodthirsty fool. Just behind the veil of "greatness" that tyrants seek are the very real atrocities that their propaganda works to erase, with lies buttressed by strong-sounding language.

Any public communication is worth examining for how verbs energize and/or divert us. Unsurprisingly, news headlines across the world during the last 24 hours deliver mainly action verbs--casts doubt (UK), grinds on (USA), pushes back (USA), deficits left open (Australia), grid emissions set to skyrocket (Canada), economist warns (Germany), limit even more (Mexico), four Jokowi ministers may run (Indonesia), appears to be in no rush (France), secure three seats (Ireland), "...we will win..." (Ukraine), takes elections (Netherlands), establish new reception centers (Finland), tax reduction eaten up (Norway), can benefit when defence has become more important (Sweden), ...makes claim (Russia), continues search (Japan), ramps up provocations in run-up (South Korea), ...and expands Covid-19 mass testing (China). The French newspaper headline seems more cognitive, yet the headline writer infers an expectation of more immediate action. 

And action verbs matter in more places than just news headlines. The campaign slogans that the advertising industry touts as its most effective variously rely on verbs, adverbs, or (in one case here) a noun that denotes an action. These include within "whassup" a colloquial "ss" for "is or 's," the adverbial "always," and the noun "search," suggesting verb, ...share..., ...whassup..., ...tastes great..., ...always..., ...think small..., search..., milk..., ....get a..., Does she..., forever..., ...smell like..., Where's the beef..., ...thank you mom.

Likewise, we can all think of extraordinary speeches that use carefully chosen verbs to stimulate action or new ways of thinking, helping to propel special power in delivery that's long remembered--you cannot locate it and you cannot stop it (Emmeline Pankhurst), I have a dream (Martin Luther King Jr), let tyrants fear (HRH Elizabeth I), give me blood and I will give you freedom (Subhas Chandra Bose), give me liberty or give me death (Patrick Henry), ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the world (John F. Kennedy), the land is our mother (Oodgeroo Noonuccal), we will not be quiet, we will not be controlled (Gloria Steinem), we have nothing to fear but fear itself (Franklin D. Roosevelt), we shall fight on the beaches (Sir Winston Churchill), the advertisements are for women (Germaine Greer), or a subtle use of the verb "to be," is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters (Seneca).

We know verbs can help keep language lively and tell us much about the beliefs of a speaker or writer, including the stance on a subject, or any perception of us, the listeners or readers. Worth a look also is the ratio of "verbals" (verbs and their derivatives, like adverbs etc.) to "nounals" (nouns and their derivatives, like adjectives etc.), as well as the occurrences of the verb "to be," or verb pairs, or the infinitive, or the present tense versus other tenses, or passive voice, or the imperative verb--to name just some of the entrances to explore how verbs work.

And, verbs provide just one area of language to explore more closely, before venturing further into an Aladdin's Cave of the interesting ways of language--such as how function words, rather than content words, reflect thought and attention patterns, from which listeners and readers infer personal qualities, relationships, and types of formality or informality. 

A good way to navigate language effectiveness though is to look for how verbs actually do more work for us than we might always consider.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Certainty Claims

Comparison of different methods to raise voter turnout

As we re-enter the "silly seasons" of electioneering, in the United States, France, Australia, and elsewhere, it's timely to look afresh at propaganda claims and processes. Not that this or that propagandist's statement or action now is very different, or especially more damaging than the propaganda processes we let wash over us every day--it's just the stakes are even greater. Since a good result in an election can also blunt some effects of propaganda, how we approach an election brings the opportunity to look afresh at what's going on with propagandists--if only to reconsider ways to raise the voter turnout of anyone who believes in democracy. 

Often as an election approaches, the foreboding will be of a Groundhog Day experience--as we anticipate even more intense shouting by the anti-democracy mob, any of whom might live next door. Unfortunately, the United States and some other democracies have a too large crop of shouting wannabes, whose copy-cat tradition is to speak of carnage and how they're so hardly done by--especially by the media--and, with a zealot's energy, will set about attacking others and claim that all will certainly "be best" by reviving some mythical glories of the past--which never include humor or a capacity for laughter.

And those candidates along with some elected representatives seem to mistakenly believe that they're born to rule. They keep popping up. Their public communication is strikingly similar in its dual focus on themselves and on being "anti-" the values of civil society--especially democratic values. Commonly, they promise certainties, rather than choices. The certainty claims conveniently ignore that, especially from the early to the later stages of an election, many of us would like to have some real choice--including among quality candidates for public office. 

Who are propagandists is usually what's most certain, when you know what to look for. Sometimes these propagandists pay lip service to democratic values, but mostly just "scream for the camera," as one Congressional representative astutely described some colleagues from his own party recently. The anti-democratic language of propagandists is preoccupied with at-least-mild exaggeration, or more often hyperbole--to capture the attention of a journalist or a camera.  

Caught up with self-advancement--by any means, at the expense of anyone else--most propagandists routinely use a high proportion of content words which have unclear referents, along with lots of function words like factive verbs and non-referential adverbs. 

It feels strange that the United States government in recent months has done so well, by using declassified intelligence, to anticipate and deal effective blows to blunt the propaganda of a foreign aggressor--yet we the people seem comfortable with domestic propaganda. Why is it that the horrors of lies told by another country are deplorable, while apparently local propaganda is willingly accepted in daily living?

A great amount of electoral and everyday propaganda ironically is from domestic terrorists and their foreign collaborators--mostly focused on the character assassination of opponents, sometimes persistently for many years, during endless fundraising and other mailings or using gossip chains. With the targeting of audiences dictated by some very expensive and ongoing socio-psychographic mapping and "messaging" rules, continuous propaganda is directed at party faithful and potential swing voters throughout the country. Yes, anyone else is as irrelevant as any non-person--who, just like any stateless individual in a foreign conflict, will be characterized as "not us"--with eerily bad outcomes expected to flow from all the "anti-" drivel.

Regrettably, by the time we bother to look closely at propaganda, much of its damage is already done--with the greatest damage not much talked about, namely how propaganda over time white-ants personal and social values, changing where we put attention, energy, and action. As Jacques Ellul warned, for propaganda to succeed the propagandist must control free thought.

What most empowers a propagandist are reactions. So, it surely is time to take a pause, instead of taking to Twitter, or devising that media exposé of this or that propagandist, or feeling threatened, or otherwise responding to the impulses of fight or flight when our raw nerves are touched off by a propagandist's emotive nonsense. 

It's often safest and best to assume that a propagandist is weird, driven to develop extraordinary skills in self-preservation from probably a very early age, by a distorted commitment to being right and winning--at everything, by whatever means--including as an adult through remarkably protracted gaming of the legal system. All the lies, distortions, and dodges are tactics to prove to anyone who'll react that the propagandist is right and a winner, at your cost. 

Of course, as noted in earlier blog posts, pundits frequently do additional damage with so-called fact-checking or other clumsy analyses, disseminating a lie much more widely than the propagandist could manage. And, those nauseating excuses by the pundits on mainstream or social media that "only show you this, so you know what's going on" just repeat and magnify the propagandist's insult and abuse.

So, what are we to do? 

1. We could stop being obsessed with the aberrant behavior of the propagandist. It's better to pay attention to asserting, with truthful, lawful, and just speech, the practical initiatives that build and strengthen the values of western civilization--like justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom. It's better to ensure accountability, soon and well, of anyone whose "anti-" behavior violates existing law. And, it's more than time to find ways to "clean house" of any unqualified "anti-" administrators and judiciary.

2. We could be skeptical of glib commentary, especially when it's just too neat, outlandish, or sounds too good to be true--these con-artists learned from wolves to dress up as sheep, and will bleat way too loudly, way above their weight. It's important to scrutinize a propagandist's actions or claims, to assess what impact these will make on freedoms of thought, speech, or association, and on the common good of people. This scrutiny and any needed actions in response are necessary for democracy to thrive.

3. We could stand up to the now too common virulent variety of propaganda that abuses or threatens your personality or safety--we no longer tolerate such abuse in domestic or workplace settings. It's hard to figure why that behavior is tolerated, and not called out more at school board meetings and other community gatherings, much less in legislatures or at the supermarket checkout--with persistent "anti-" claims about masks or vaccination, for example, still popping up in unexpected places. Some chairpersons and individuals are objecting to and successfully moderating that behavior, which requires some verbal "whackamo" skills.

4. For all the propaganda processes and puffing and stuffing and hot words, it's best to look elsewhere--separate from the propagandist promises of certainty--for what's authentic and achievable.

The propagandist thrives by receiving attention. In the time that any of us is objecting to the latest outlandish outrage, our own comments will often exponentially assist the viral spread of drivel, while the propagandist launches more vitriol to suck(er) more people into weird obsession with delusions of the propagandist's invention. 

And, all those appeals to people's fears, grievances, greed, hates, wanting to belong, or other emotions are just a means to an end for propagandists--along with their lies, denials, delays, distortions, and disruptions that are megaphoned and further magnified unwittingly or willingly by mainstream and social media. Unfortunately, as much as one believes in democratic debate, this is not a belief shared by any propagandist. 

It's mostly pointless to argue or 'splain propagandist comments, other than to reassert or demonstrate democratic values of civil society. Likely those comments were put together to extend dogma, and are frequently couched as "not-for-debate." And it's not possible to even kindle debate when a propagandist won't acknowledge anyone else's much less civil society's ethical or moral framework. As wannabe winners, propagandists don't "get" anyone's morality, because, a bit like self-centered nihilists, they're not absorbing of anything other than self.

The propagandist sees nothing but "selling" us on anything that advances the wannabe goals of the propagandist. So, trying too much to describe a propagandist's ideological commitment is about as meaningful or useful as trying to label the Wizard of Oz. The better efforts will be to raise voter turnout.

Welcome your thoughts...

Thursday, April 7, 2022

To Speak Out!

The Platypus sings of the antediluvian days
 This image is in the Public Domain {{US-PD-expired}}

At Amazon websites internationally 

or Ingram for libraries and bookstores.

ISBN: 978-1-7374895-1-1 (hardback)

ISBN: 978-1-7374895-0-4 (paperback)

Persuasive language styles of notable Australians, 1890s to 21st century. This book describes the ways that word choice, sentence shape, and passage development enable successful arguments for change. It is packed with creative uses of metaphor, humour, polemic, anaphora, and political jargon, with rhetorical flair. 


Detailing rhetorical strength in the speeches and writing of Sir Samuel Griffith, Louisa Lawson, Alfred Deakin, Dame Nellie Melba, John Curtin, Dame Enid Lyons, Sir Robert Menzies, Oodgeroo Noonuccal [Kath Walker], Kevin Gilbert, Gough Whitlam, Germaine Greer, Bob Hawke, Sallyanne Atkinson, Michael Kirby, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Noel Pearson, Scott Morrison, and more. Includes a selection of notable speeches and writing.


D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

…designed to appeal to a broad audience interested in communication, rhetoric, and persuasive speaking… Australians who wielded their words as firmly and effectively as battlefield swords and guns …highly recommended, top-notch selection that belongs in the collections of a diverse set of libraries... Ideally, it will be used in classrooms and discussion groups as a solid example of language styles and effective speech.

Full review here or search for book title at:

Roslyn Petelin PhD, Honorary Associate Professor, School of Communication and Arts, The University of Queensland and author, How Writing Works:

“A fascinating, monumental book that should be compulsory for all history and politics students and many others.

*  *  *  *  *

True leaders advance the common good, using "...truthful, lawful, and just speech"--as recommended for more than 2,400 years. 

My new book, Australians Speak Out: Persuasive Language Styles, assesses persuasive language styles in the speeches and writing of leaders in one modern nation, who got it right. These leaders had to speak directly, laconically at times, and use plain talk to hold the attention of audiences. 

The book is packed with examples of how extraordinary speakers and writers use ordinary words to make representative democracy thrive. It assesses the persuasive language of some notable Australians, from the 1890s to the 21st century. 

Living in the United States through the absurdity of the initial handling of COVID and a remarkable election, I kept some perspective by exploring a rich heritage of extraordinary Australians who advocate social and political change--completing the book while intense fights for democracy continue throughout the world.

Speaking Up
In Australia, where the anti-hero is revered, leaders have to speak up and speak out in individual ways. When the Olympics were held here, on the night before the race, the blue line marking the marathon course was erased from one section of the course--the next morning to be found repainted running up to one pub door and out from another.

It's the same nation where, amid the COVID pandemic early in 2020, photos spontaneously appeared on the Internet of suburban dwellers dressed in startling costumes as superheroes, zombies, grotesques, princesses, etc., just to roll out their wheelie garbage bins to the front of their homes for collection. Australians deal with the absurd with a developed sense of humour and a sense of independence.

At a time when truthful, lawful, and just speech is needed more than ever, the book takes a fresh look at how prime ministers, other community leaders, and advocates of change attract attention and move people to action. 

Australians Speak Out ["Look Inside" here] reveals the persuasive language of notable Australians whose advocacy helped to
* federate the colonies of Britain in the South Pacific as one nation
* make Australian women among the first to be able to vote, in 1902
* appeal directly to the people of the United States for wartime support
* establish rights for First Nations
* challenge sexism
* reform laws to respect human rights
* control guns
* deal with the COVID pandemic
and advance many other causes by appealing to our reason and emotions. For ready access, a selection of notable speeches and writing is included.

Direct Appeals
Looking closely at the language of more than 20 notable Australians, who helped to transform the colonies of Britain into a multicultural nation on the world stage, brought surprises along with expected familiarity. Familiar now to relatively few is the plea during World War II to strengthen the partnership of the United States and Australia to defeat foreign aggression in the Pacific--from prime minister John Curtin, speaking via radio directly to the people of the United States. 

Perhaps more readily recalled are prime ministers Sir Robert Menzies and Gough Whitlam, who respectively committed and removed Australian troops in support of the United States in Vietnam. Or, Germaine Greer provocatively addressing women's rights at the National Press Club in Washington DC in 1971--while promoting publication of The Female Eunuch, with the persuasive language that she used in her book reviewed here.

Advocacy for Action
Surprising to some might be the powerful language of Louisa Lawson's social activism, which spearheaded women's right to vote on the same terms as men in 1902; and yet peoples in the First Nations were unable to vote until 1962. 

The disturbing treatment of First Nations was finally officially acknowledged during the term of the reform prime minister Gough Whitlam, elected in 1972, and in the landmark speeches of prime ministers Paul Keating (1992) and Kevin Rudd (2008). Yet, still unaddressed were key rights for First Nations strongly advocated from the late 20th century, by activists like Oodgeroo Noonuccal [Kath Walker] and Kevin Gilbert, whose speeches are reviewed in the book. 

Also assessed are the remarkable speeches and writing of the former Justice of the High Court, Michael Kirby, who recalls the inspiration that Eleanor Roosevelt brought to schoolchildren through her visit to Sydney in 1944--and to his own life-long commitment of reforming laws to respect human rights. And, how The Right Honourable Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Sallyanne Atkinson, invited British royalty who were present to join Brisbane residents in "our party," to celebrate the City's coming of age at the opening of World Expo '88.

From more recent times, there are powerful, and perhaps surprising speeches. These include prime minister John Howard's address to transform gun ownership nationally, little more than a month after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, and prime minister Julia Gillard's address to parliament in 2012 in her powerful objection to sexism, which resonated around the world--to current Prime Minister Morrison's brief but reassuring plan to deal with the COVID pandemic.

For anyone interested in a close look at words that appeal to audiences--that are authentic and move hearts and minds! I hope you'll enjoy reading the book.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Tales of Two...

Auckland Islands, Looking towards New Zealand
Cape Lovitt by Lawrie Mead (LawrieM) & Tony Nicklin. This image is in the Public Domain.

Joan Druett in Island of the Lost [here] brings to life the character of people who, sailing into forbidding seas, were shipwrecked on a remote island 285 miles to the south of New Zealand. She recounts how two groups deal with deprivation at the "edge of the world" in the year 1864--as current today as then. 

The tales reveal the best and most base in humanity--starkly contrasting adaptability and rigidity in the respective leaders of the groups. One group showed courage in selfless acts too many to know, a flexibility in fighting overwhelming forces, and a determination to survive--qualities largely lacking in the second group.

Part history and part immersion in human nature, the author finds her stride early to bring to life the events and voices of the individuals, through her carefully creative interpretation of journals and other research. She relates the true tales of two groups, who were castaway and unaware of each other's existence, at different ends of the same island. Each took a different approach to making decisions and to finding shelter or food--with consequently different outcomes. 

Powerful recreations of ships, sea, storms, islands, vegetation, sea lions, bird-life, and other creatures are described in graphic detail, along with the cruelty needed to survive. Druett melds seamlessly the records of events within descriptions of the island setting, to illustrate how the castaways cope, insightfully sharing the thoughts and actions of people facing extreme challenges to their lives. 

The smaller group of castaways celebrate human savvy in undertaking hard efforts, using limited tools retrieved from their shipwreck--foraging for food, building shelter, and sustaining spirits. As leader of this group, Captain Musgrave provides encouragement, requiring times of relaxation as needed. He seems as a leader to appreciate when to lean in with guidance and when to cheer initiative. For 18-months, Captain Musgrave and his group withstood the isolation and deprivation through adaptation, ingenuity, and cooperative efforts. 

A larger group of castaways, who were shipwrecked four months after Musgrave's group, fared much less well. Their tale, as one reviewer remarked, was in some ways like an adult version of Lord of the Flies. From their shipwreck at the foot of cliffs through later events, this group's lethargic treks and decisions too late or not at all accumulate failure after failure in taking the actions needed for survival. With the low energy and inflexibility of this second group and its official leader, you can broadly predict why their tale would be so different--with just one seaman having the resourcefulness needed to face such dire circumstances. 

The detail of the narration is engaging. The book also describes norms of master-servant relations of the time, notes the behaviors of government officials, and chronicles some subsequent history of this "graveyard for ships." Lessons emerge naturally from the recreation of a distant time, in a far-away place, through deftly reimagined conversations and events that are freshly relevant today. 

When the world waits and watches from elsewhere, tales of survival offer possibility for hope. But they also highlight the limits to being able to survive alone. 

Saturday, March 5, 2022


by Preston Keres/US Dept of Agriculture. This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-USGov}}

George Orwell concluded his Homage to Catalonia with a reflection on his return to England, "earthquakes in Japan, famines in China, revolutions in Mexico... [the people] ...all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England… [will be] …jerked out of it by the roar of bombs."

This was 1937, when Orwell returned from a harrowing time as a volunteer in the fight against real fascists, during the Spanish War. Although it's not possible now to know just how, greater efforts at that time to weaken or defeat the fascists could have seen events from 1939 onwards unfold very differently.

It was not only England that was sleeping. Throughout a world still slowly recovering from a Great Depression, in rural areas, cities, and towns, people on farms and in offices and factories sought peace of mind for a better life--while leaders of the Axis Powers secretly made massive preparations for conquest. 

Their first forays with bombs and troops were to take control of countries as staging areas for further conquest. 

The world waited and watched from elsewhere, until the disparate and distracting debates, increasingly influenced by members of the Fifth Column telling smart-sounding lies, could no longer shield elected representatives from duty to protect homelands. Compelled by overwhelming circumstances, people worldwide progressively woke from sleep to harrowing years of action.

Foremost among what was different then was that Hitler from very early so completely lied about his intentions.

Monday, February 21, 2022


by Helen Leah Reed. This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

Much like family, we don't usually get to pick our neighbors. Pleasant times spent with a neighbor chatting and sharing stories, drinks, or a meal provide a sense of belonging, security, and peace of mind within immediate and familiar surroundings--extending the valued bubble of comfort and security of home that anyone should be able to expect. 

Some neighbors become life-long friends. Some take on the care of houseplants or pets when we travel. Looking out for each other and caring about someone else are good qualities in folks we'd call good neighbors.

Of course, in different ways tough on everyone are those neighbors only interested in themselves. Least troublesome are the ones who keep to themselves. But the one or two who dispute the fence-line, push too much, or make a lot of noise or worse are the flip-side. 

More widely in the world they're often mocked or illustrated as ridiculous but dangerous, frighteningly real compared to the cartoon characters their actions prompt. 

I recall a Donald Duck cartoon strip in which Donald got his feathers so greatly in a flap with his neighbor that they each frantically built fences higher and higher on their adjacent fence-line, to outdo each other.

Eventually, the fences were many times higher than their homes, bending and swaying from the height of the fences that Donald and his neighbor were atop and still building, when the cartoonist summoned a tornado to whisk both fences away onto a nearby body of water--there to serve as life-rafts for passengers escaping a ferry that was overturned by the same tornado--such is the power of the cartoonist's pen to find a good ending to madness.

The longer that dangerous actions are allowed, the greater the harm for everyone.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

The Cons

by Xocolatl. This image is in the Public Domain.

It's all done with mirrors. A once-famous columnist for a still-famous newspaper probably had this saying in mind when he speculated more than half a century ago about writing the ideal all-purpose political speech--by appealing to anyone who's committed to any side of just about any issue. He went further to write, tongue-in-cheek I hope, his own best effort toward earning "the supreme accolade: 'Nobody can quarrel with that.'"

It's worrisome that he was also a presidential speechwriter for five years in an administration not noted for covering itself in glory. While the columnist's name might not matter any more, the sentiment does, whether or not the original motivation was mainly comic. The columnist proffered that the way to earn the "supreme accolade" was to craft words that permitted political candidates "to take firm stands on all sides of every issue." What's happened to political language since elevates this cheeky comment to seriously worrisome.

We all long ago let ourselves get used to propaganda washing over us every day in every way. Perhaps it's not surprising that, for too many decades in this country, some generators of political language have borrowed and "improved" the techniques that Madison Avenue found sufficiently useful to convince us to buy not this but that soap, toothpaste, food, car, college, or you-name-it. 

As expressed in the spirit of the original remarkably pseudo-scientific gibberish, these advertising techniques were built on "measuring subjects' reactions to messages." In the 1950s, this was done by observing eye dilations and other physiological reactions to "messages"--methods that long ago found their way into politics, with the aim of delivering more certainty in the effect of words.

So-called research data are now gathered from electrodes on potential voters who listen to political speeches, to determine the "right words" for the use of these words uniformly in talking points across a political party, which makes addressing people's real needs irrelevant--with too many in the media then repeating the juicy parts of the talking points verbatim! Anyone who doesn't think this cringeworthy and wrong on so many levels has a long way to climb back to decent human values.

The easier propagandists to call out are those who say the outright opposite of what they do. But these still seem to attract more media attention for what is said rather than done--maybe because the lie is more colorful and comes pre-packaged in a media release. Hyperbole or even mild exaggeration combined with provocative ambiguity is a headline-writer's dream, whether connected to reality or not.

More challenging is the conjurer of euphemism or maestro of the mealy-mouthed, especially those urging politicians to talk to us about "security," "peace of mind," "results," "renewal," "independence," and a litany of words being promoted into conversational currency, without the matching actions to accomplish laudable ideals. Such as "transparency" or better still "accountability" for example! Now, these sound like promising thoughts--and is it too much to ask that the legislators, judiciary, and others, who've sworn real oaths to do so, actually take the steps needed to "secure our peace of mind by getting a result of some accountability, to deliver a renewal of democracy and individual independence"--at more than buggy-speed in a nano-world!? The come-ons and put-offs become encyclopedic, as the news cycle moves on. 

As messages are being shaped and shared for yet another election, it's a good time to see the hucksters for who they are. Just like the about-to-be-bankrupt person in business projects confidence, even bombast, to reassure an unfortunate target to invest in a yet-again just-wonderful opportunity, so too will the political propagandist. 

Waking to every day's news that includes some fearfully absurd figures, it's a time to look for what's real behind the images. Computerized propaganda has just kept improving its targeting too. And foreign state-sponsored efforts remain. So, here are some suggested rules-of-thumb to take action on, after reaching for a second cup of coffee each morning during the coming months:

1. Vote when you can.

2. Find people in your neighborhood or circle of friends and relatives, of whatever party affiliation, who believe in democracy--put aside differences, and form a coalition of ongoing-working-consultation to take actions to strengthen democracy together--and count on doing this for a long while. 

3. Laugh at and/or stand up to the puffed-up and self-opinionated autocrat, whether local or (if you're able) international.

4. Write a letter (not a tweet) to your elected representatives, requesting action on something you care about, asking for and expecting a reply, and following up if you don't get one, until you do get a satisfactory (not mealy-mouthed) reply.

5. Recognize grift-language--if it really seems to be everywhere, ignore it if it looks harmless enough for now, and call it out when it's not.

6. Secure a funhouse mirror (by analogy) to hold up and show to others, yes anyone who'll listen, just how distorted and far from the common good of normalcy that the words and actions of autocrats travel.

6. Re-re-read writers like Jacques Ellul and Randal Marlin, referenced in earlier blog-posts.

7. Laugh a Lot.

Tearing down grifters and their propaganda requires more than occasionally switching off the media and tech devices, although this might help gain some perspective. 

Most seriously, any of us needs to take time to hold up a mirror to propaganda, to make out what's real, past the reverse/distorted images--like we do with a funhouse mirror at the sideshow, to look for the reality that's being distorted.

Not that all of this will be possible or always work, but reinforcing critical inquiry and informed challenge will prove way better than bathing every day in the distortions of people whom you'd not otherwise open your door to. 

And, if enough of us believe in doing good within democracy, and communicate well, democracy will thrive.

Sunday, January 30, 2022


Expected on full display off the coast of Ireland this week will be a contrast of values. With the deadly armaments of war-gamers potentially endangering Irish fishermen, it is real values and not pretense that will be clear to the world. 

The war-gamers are set to fire naval artillery and rockets 150 miles off the Irish coast in international waters, but within the Irish exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Pat Murphy and his fellow fishermen have caught the attention of many worldwide, for promising to do what they've always done on the first of Februarynamely, work the fishing grounds off the coast of Ireland, from the start of the season.

What's clear already is that when Pat Murphy says he's not moving aside for war-gamers, you'd better believe it. He and a fellow fisherman made this known, armed only with maps of the fishing grounds, during a visit with the war-gamers' ambassador to Ireland. 

Unsurprisingly, the two parties' readouts of this meeting, which were later given to the media, were different concerning a key undertakingwith the ambassador's public statement contradicting his private guarantee of safety given to Murphy. Mr Murphy reportedly responded that he takes the ambassador's public comment as "a threat and an insult." As my Irish grandfather quipped more than once, there are no degrees of honesty.

As with most events of this type that involve devotees to war who are reported in the media, the slippery treatment of truth, half-truth, and myth will keep evolving as the coming week(s) unfold. This casual relationship with truth of warmongers, and war-gamers also apparently, was evident even before the first edition in 1975 of Phillip Knightley's revelatory The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq.

It's to be hoped the war-gamers might temporarily escape their own view of the world to know that an Irish fisherman named Pat Murphy will keep his wordhe and his compatriots will be fishing and "not moving aside," when the war-gamers commence their dangerous maneuvers on Thursday, local time. 

Just how many generations of Murphy families have fished off the Irish coast isn't clear. And which Murphy family would you be talking about, you might ask.  

Population experts would likewise have a hard time guessing the scale of various extensions of the Murphy families and their countryfolk throughout the world. Estimates based on the rates with which Irish migrants in this country and elsewhere marry out of the Irish community, and extend the sharing of Irish values, would give some idea of this. Yet another clue could be the readership of books about Ireland, including How the Irish Saved Civilizationwhich tend to fly off the shelves of bookshops and libraries.

What the world is seeing many will consider a further repeat of what Sir Winston Churchill acknowledged as a "sorry history" of the Emerald Isle, so often subjected to intimidation and, in earlier times, invasion!

Whatever happens this week, many millions within and beyond Irish families, in a great many countries worldwide, will feel unity with Mr Murphy and his fellow fishermen.

[FOOTNOTE UPDATE, February 1, 2022: The Irish Echo has reported "...the Russians have now said that they will relocate their naval exercises, though to exactly where is not clear. But they apparently won't now be staged in the Irish EEZ."]

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Pundit Propaganda

by The Strobridge Litho. Co./Library of Congress (restored, rotated & cropped).
This image is in the Public Domain {{PD-US-expired}}

Propagandist Pundits play too much with our perception. Will such folks ever appreciate that if we really do hanker for the current equivalent of performing geese, roosters, & a musical donkey, we'll find a real circus.

NOT talking here about the so obvious pundits whom we regrettably notice too much--these are the self-servers, who routinely speak conspiracy lies, or so much that's outrageous, that, if they had a moral compass, or any of the faith that some of them claim, their comments would surely head them hellward. NOR those mentioned recently in an opinion article in the newspaper, which suggested that pundits should own up when they get something wrong, just like the rest of us do, when inevitably in life we make a mistake.

Important as those are to address, more important are pundits who try to put truthful perspective, yet fail. And these pundits are important because of their potential! These are the folks who too often fail by being unwitting propagandists, constantly parroting the words and claims of some grifter, charlatan, propagandist, or other pretender--thereby publicizing the pretender's original claims. Particularly dangerous and destructive to democracy now are these prevalent and persistent pundits.

Ever since the first televised presidential debates in the United States in 1960, we've known that pundits who soon afterwards comment on what public figures say have more power than the original remarks. As mentioned in an earlier blog post, this was already apparent as long ago as 1943, when the brilliant pundit Martin Esslin--well before he famously described the theater of the absurd--participated in counter-propaganda radio broadcasts. His role was to immediately analyze Hitler's speeches, and Esslin's analyses--which were unfavorable to the Nazis--were broadcast in German into occupied countries, where people were allowed to listen only to radio broadcasts in German.    

Today, we need more pundits who use their own words more, to comment truthfully, positively, and plainly. To do this, many need to stop repeating the language of pretenders. For example, when will people's attraction to alliteration give way to sense? Should be plain as day that, if you keep quoting the audience-tested, much propagated slogan "St** the St***," you're helping the propagandist by spreading bad words (and lies) again, and again, and again, etc. And, it should be just fine for moderators on broadcast media or editors in the print media to use different words to challenge this as propaganda. No different than the responsibility to prevent dissemination of libel and slander, and unchecked propaganda is at least as dangerous.

Dear Pundit, if you really must have a slogan to repeat, or a bumper sticker to put up somewhere prominently, how about the alliterative "Stop the Stupid." Or, instead of still repeating "no fr**d was found," just dump the negatives--and say what's Fair for Freedom of thought, speech, and association. It's simple to do, when you remember what's at stake.

But apparently these pundits feel purified by putting a negative in front of their free publicity for some pretender--whom they ironically often decry--then do detailed forensics, reusing the pretender's fantasy verbiage, and repeat the original words and claims endlessly, sometimes putting "not" in front; mistakenly believing that "not" has some power that it actually lacks.

For example, if I said to you "Don't WALK on the grass," likely you'd hear most prominently the verb "walk" and what follows it, even if I'd not capitalized=shouted this verb, or if I'd used "not" instead of the barely noticeable contraction ...n't! Have you noticed also that verbs are more powerful in getting our attention than nouns and negatives... or just about any other bit of language. Since this imperative or instruction form of the verb is especially powerful and attention-getting because it rarely occurs in conversation, there's added inclination for your brain to totally ignore the negative and hear something more like "Go ahead, you (or y'all) go walk on the grass!!"

Out of habit, or dancing around legalisms, or ignorance, or just being lazy though, people do negate or double-negate comments, all the time. Some even double-negate themselves into insulting followers, as was reported recently.

It really is simple to rephrase or paraphrase, to purify the puerile and pernicious. How about just saying "X & Y have occurred, and Z suggests/ed this remedy..." instead of the usual pattern, "This killer fog that I'm showing you again and again will not go away anytime soon." Maybe cross the street, so-to-speak, to find someone who will offer a remedy to pursue, rather than continuing to provide a platform for some "Desdemona-downer" pretender! Or, for additional thoughts on what language to use, please re-check George Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language."

It's not only preference for the positive that prompted this post. Among Jacques Ellul's warnings about propaganda is an alert to what he called social propaganda. This most powerful propaganda drives automatic behavior, triggered from the assumptions and norms wrapped within the context and language that we swim in everyday. Even if you're not perturbed about the impact of all these "nots" not-not-negating us into nothingness or worse, media bullhorns that repeat foul fantasies and pretense just perpetuate the mind warp first intended. 

Anyway, please consider that a great many people are just plain tired of hearing all the swamp talk of pretenders repeated. Surely, it's time to find a better way to call out the putrid and the puerile? How about perorating the promising? Now there's a prospect!  

A pundit is supposed to be, and is often paid to be, well, better--with an opinion to share, with perspective and precision. So, please, can this include putting a stop to promoting drivel?

Saturday, January 1, 2022



by Finnrussell99 is licensed under CCA-SA-4.0 International

New Year for a couple of decades marked the final stage of three-weeks at the beach when growing up. Apart from a few seasonal celebrations, visits with relatives or friends, and some movies, this annual vacation was a time of uninterrupted surfing, of both waves and words. 

Early every morning in a land of endless summer, the family carried beach umbrella, rolled-up beach mat, towels, boogie boards, sunglasses, sunscreen, drink-containers, and of course books, to trek in caravan formation across sand-hills and the already hot beach sand--to find just the right spot, between the flags placed by the lifesavers to mark the area safe for swimming.

The morning was spent in the surf--after a quick survey of what the previous night's tides and weather had set as the surfing terrain, to make safe navigation across any deep gutters, rip-currents, or sandbars--out far, to where serious waves gathered--there to catch a deeply rolling swell the long distance to shore, riding on its final curl and roll onward to the beach. 

Swimming with the swell to catch a wave more than two-to-three-times one's height was learned early, for an exhilarating ride as close as you'd hope to the beach. Sometimes, misjudged timing delivered an additional lesson as a human cork, tumbling in the wave or hitting the sand hard, with eyes wide open underwater, shrouded with flurries of white bubbles and sand clouds, until breaking the surface for air. Eventually we'd come back to the beach umbrella and outspread towels, talking and reading, until returning home for lunch. 

During the long hot afternoons, in separate places--indoors, under trees, or in the sand-hills, lots of reading revealed more than the year's schooling about how words work. Being carried along by words for the afternoon was different but in some ways similar to the morning's experience riding the waves.

Even from everyday Aussie talk, we were well primed to be curious about exploring language, often encountering analogy, rhyming substitutions, abbreviation, imaginative omission, and lots of figurative language. Not everywhere in the world will you hear the phrase "like a lizard drinking" with everyone around you understanding this translates to "busy"--because a lizard lies "flat out" busily drinking at the billabong... and it's commonly known that a billabong is a particular type of watering hole and not a surfing reference, despite the confusion created by this now also being a popular brand-name for surfing gear and clothing. 

Or, how many people do you know who, out of the blue, refer to a best friend and/or spouse as "china plate," or just "china," or "plate"? Of course, Cockneys and Aussies know what this is because there's a rhyme with "mate," and everyone knows what that means, right! These are some of what are better known among quite a large trove of Australian/"Oz-talk"--now, that's "clear as mud" you might say, but will you routinely put these and many more language adaptations and adoptions, one after another continuously in every sentence you speak? No wonder that John O'Grady, writing under his pseudonym Nino Culotta, sold so many copies of They're a Weird Mob--a 1957 comic novel about an Italian immigrant to Oz trying to work all this out. And, then there's Frank Hardy's irreverently humorous satire The Outcasts of Foolgarah--which would require too many blogposts to translate from Oz-talk, however imprecisely.

Later, it was kind of surprising to find thoughtful authors, mainly from Europe or North America, who bothered to write entire books about tropes, rhetorical style, slang, or colorful language. Mostly these authors were interested in how words are used differently in different places, or for different purposes. It didn't take long to catch curiosity about how we shape words and words shape us--which also primed curiosity about how a writer like Dylan Thomas opened a path to sounds, sights, and insights [here in 5 minutes, "Poem in October" and "In My Craft or Sullen Art," read by the poet]. Or, of his walk in winter Quite Early One Morning, describing a seaside Welsh village and its people waking to another day [here in less than 13 minutes], as he makes intriguing entrances to unfamiliar scenes and feelings, via his unique rhythm, symbols, and density of lyrical language. 

Then Charles Darwin describing human origins in language attentive to his wife's deeply different faith, to an eye-opening James Baldwin telling it on the mountain, to "Rabbie" Burns's reshaping songs and stories of Scotland, to Judith Wright visualizing the Australian bush, to Halldor Laxness's vision of independence, to the wit of Wislawa Szymborska, and so many other worlds of words.

Along the way, seeds from the thoughtful authors on rhetoric and language style progressively grew further curiosity--so it continues--recently and enjoyably, with much thanks to a friend, who pointed out yet another thoughtful author known on his weblog as The Inky Fool. This is Mark Forsyth, who dives into, if you'll allow the metaphor, oceans of words... and, who seems to have way too much fun with explanations of etymology, syntax, semantics, and rhetoric.

For anyone even a little interested in stretching understandings of what words can do, Mr. Forsyth, with an energy worthy of a surfer, dives into allusion, Diacope, and other examples of rhetorical style, to explain how apparently everyday language in movies or songs, or other word experiences, manage to carry us along.

If this is the nearest that a lexicographer comes in an armchair to surfing waves of words, good luck to us all. You can join in, and hopefully enjoy starting the year with one of his videos... here

Happy New Year.