What’s in a Nickname?

In Great Britain, more than 120,000 online voters recently suggested “Boaty McBoatface” as the name for a British polar research ship. The Science Ministry in Britain overruled the popular choice, choosing instead to name the ship after naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. Although I loved the silliness of “Boaty McBoatface,” I wasn’t surprised it didn’t make the cut. But it did remind me of the power and persistence of nicknames.

Some nicknames are just plain stupid and annoying like the ones I was given in high school. And no, I’m not giving them new life here! Other nicknames are mocking and hurtful. I never knowingly bestow those names. If I know that someone dislikes one of my nicknames, I try to drop it.

But for me, nicknames are sign of affection—a name I give someone to acknowledge our special connection. Or they can also be a humorous name for a car or pet. For example, my ’67 Chevy BelAir was “the Blue Whale,” because it was enormous. Sometimes we called my collie Tasha, “Slosha,” because of the way she dripped all over the floor when drinking.

When I was growing up, nicknames were common in my family, and my father originated most of them. They were affectionate (or at worst, teasing) and often nonsensical. I don’t know why he called my oldest brother, who certainly wasn’t smelly, “Big Barnsmell.” None of the rest of us called him that, so my brother tolerated the name with good grace. Dad called my next brother, “Sport,” which at least made sense, because that brother was athletic.

Sport called me “Snickersnee” because of my sneezing and allergies. Eventually that was shortened to “Snee” or “Snee Baby.”

After hearing my oldest niece call her younger sister, “Shorty,” I adopted that nickname for my younger sister, because she’s several inches taller than me. Stupid, I know, for a grown woman to call her younger sister “Shorty,” but I’ve done it for years and she’s never smacked me. Lately she’s taken to calling me “Shellen.” Aside from the rhyme, I’m not sure why she’s given me that name, but I’m OK with it.

My siblings and I also had nicknames for my father although we didn’t always say them to his face—“Big D” for Dad or Don (his first name).

It was probably inevitable that I’d have nicknames for my sons. I’ll spare you (and them) the dippiest names, which tended to be variations on their first names. However, during his middle years, I called my youngest, “Larry Bob,” which had nothing to do with his real name, but it sort of went with the goofier side of his personality.

When our sons got muscles and grew half a foot taller than me, I began calling them “Otis” and “The Other Otis”—kind of like calling them, “You big galoot”—a teasing way to acknowledge how much bigger they are than me. So far, they’ve tolerated it pretty well. No doubt they have names for me too.

Do you use nicknames for your family and friends? How about your car? Pets?


Don’t Open The Brown Paper Bag Next To The Ice Cream

187f3776-4747-421f-b7b6-2ff156d465b2_400[1]“You’ll take care of the body?” she asked gently.

“It’s going next to the ice cream in the freezer,” I told her.

She chuckled.

I had thought about putting our cat Angel in the shed until the ground thawed out. But that seemed insensitive and physically too far away until she was put to rest in our backyard. Of course, I could have had him cremated. But I didn’t want to. Yes, cost was part of it though I didn’t even look up how much it was. More than that, it seemed weird to have one animal cremated and not the rest.

Yes, we have a few animals buried in our yard. I should ask for a discount from MN Pets – our go-to place for euthanizing an animal in our home. They do such a good job at it. Angel will make it one dog, four cats. MN Pets sends us a Christmas card each year.

With Angel’s departure we are now at our city’s limit for how many animals residents can legally have — five total. We have two four-legged cats, one three-legged cat and two dogs.

Though I did tell Buddy, our dog, that if he wasn’t careful, I’d make it a twofer. The vet wasn’t sure what to make of my joking.

She didn’t know that we had been waiting for Angel to die for a long, long time. He was the energizer cat that went and went and went for 18 years. I’ve never had a pet that lived that long.

Angel was my buddy. He’d meet me at the door when I came home from work and come sit with me every morning. He was MY cat.

R.I.P. Angel

R.I.P. Angel

He was also the reason we had so many cat brushes around. That was our time together. I told Angel, that I would know it was his time when the day came that he didn’t want me to brush him. And, sadly, that day did come.

I made an appointment with MN Pets for a Monday so all of us could have the weekend with Angel. I quickly changed it to Saturday when it became clear that waiting for Monday wasn’t the loving thing to do.

Angel isn’t the first animal I’ve kept in the freezer until the ground thawed. And, he may not be the last. What else do you do in Minnesota when a pet dies in the winter? Thankfully, we have small dogs. A German Shepard or full grown lab would take up too much room.

Having the cat in the freezer is working out okay. It just freaks out Antonio and Crystel’s friends when they tell them not to open up the paper bag next to the ice cream.

5 Procrastination Tips Writers Can Really Get Behind With

  1. Read the newspaper thoroughly while eating breakfast. Beside the news, be sure to read the book reviews and the funnies. It’s important to know who’s being published and by whom. And the funnies help you keep your perspective.
  2. Those dishes aren’t doing themselves. Before tackling revisions, better get the dishes out of the way. That food will be congealed and disgusting later.
  3. Don’t be antisocial. It’s been days since you’ve scrolled (and trolled) through Facebook and Twitter. How will you ever build an author’s platform if you don’t keep up?
  4. Pay a few bills. If you leave them, they might get lost among the stacks of How-to Write-More-Effectively books you haven’t finished.
  5. 15 minutes isn’t enough time to do anything. Better to start fresh tomorrow. Whoa! Where’d the time go?

Do you have any tips for how to be a better procrastinator?

Grammar Insecurity Is Alive and Well

While visiting with my former neighbors, one of them asked me to explain how to use semicolons. As a writer and former writing teacher, I’ve got that one covered. However, her question opened the floodgates. It turns out that the majority of these smart, well-educated people harbor a secret fear of embarrassing themselves, because they aren’t well versed in some fine point of grammar, punctuation, or word choice.

How does grammar insecurity get started?

I picture some picky 7th grade English teacher or stern editor shaming writers so they feel incompetent. I’m not immune to that fear either—people expect more of you when you write for a living. Although I like correct grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word choice, I’m philosophical about the inevitable errors.

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 10.05.02 PMHere’s a secret—the experts don’t agree on the rules.

For example, the rules about comma use depend on what style is being used. If you’re a journalist who follows the Associated Press Stylebook, you omit the comma before “and” when punctuating a list or series. But if you’re an English teacher who teaches the Modern Language Association Style Guide or a journalist taught to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, you would use the serial comma (also known as the Oxford comma). No wonder people get confused about commas!

I’m a big fan of the Oxford comma. This example from Captain Grammar Pants illustrates why I prefer it:

This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

(It’s unlikely the author meant that his or her parents are Ayn Rand and God,                          but without a comma after Rand, the meaning isn’t clear.)

This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand, and God.

(Better! Now all I’m wondering about is why the author is enamored of Any Rand . . .)

The next example isn’t about serial commas, but it’s too much fun to resist:

Let’s eat Grandma!

(How’d Grandma get on the menu?!?)

Let’s eat, Grandma!

(Oh, thank goodness—she’s just being called to dinner.)

The Comma Queen at The New Yorker provides even more insights about commas.

Even when the experts agree on the rules, the rules change. Languages evolve over time.

When I was in grade school, I’d get marked down for splitting an infinitive (the “to be” form of the verb):

To boldly go (OMG—a split infinitive!)

To go boldly (This version keeps both parts of the verb together but it sounds stupid.)

These days few editors concern themselves with split infinitives. English has evolved. Old English turned into Middle English, which gave way to Shakespearean English and was eventually followed by Contemporary English. When was the last time you used “cozening” when you meant “cheating” (Shakespearean English) or “anon” when you meant “soon” (Old English)?

Sharp-eyed readers may notice several errors in this blog. Yeah, I know. I was just testing you!