Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Art and Science

Taking an art class is a different world from the science world in which I got my BA.  Yet there are similarities.  Both world teach techniques.  Both worlds have expected results as well as surprises. And both worlds teach a new way of seeing.

The first time I saw a scientific article with a title like Calcium Transport in the Muscles of Bullfrog Tadpoles, I laughed. The extreme specificity of the headline surprised me.  Now, I understand exactly why the headline was so specific.  Calcium transport varies by tissue, by species, by temperature, and other factors.  Anybody studying calcium transport knows which details are important for the question being asked.  Until I understood the question, I did not understand the answer.  The world is more fascinating when I have a sense of what goes into the inner workings of life.  

Painting asks different questions. A key question is how can paint be used to represent a natural object?  I didn’t know how to look at natural objects in order to see all the colors.  To help us learn to see, our teacher had us paint first in white, black and grey.  Then we added shades of grey.  Finally we were allowed to use colors.  Then we went back to shades of grey to learn about warm and cool shades of grey.  And now, we are using full color again, attempting to paint even more of what we are now able to see.  

With my new way of seeing, I found myself making my dog sit while I stared at a squash somebody had placed on a front door step.  This squash had at least 20 shades of orange, plus shades of grey. The world is more fascinating now that I can see more of what I look at.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Voodoo Doll on the Refrigerator

A man at Quaker meeting stood to speak the message that was in his heart.

He awoke in the morning to see a voodoo doll on his family’s refrigerator.  Someone had given this doll to his wife as a gift.

His wife explained that the doll came with two pins: one for enemies and one for friends.  He thought about this, since he is the kind of man who would never intentionally hurt anyone.

A pin is not only to cause pain.  A pin can also pinpoint something that needs focus.  The pin for friends could be used as a reminder of those friends who are in stress and who need to held in the light.  And a pin for enemies could be a reminder of those folks whom he needs to forgive.

He goes to the refrigerator at least 3 times a day. This doll is a reminder at least 3 times a day to think about the people who matter to him.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Correct Spelling?

I’m working on a book in which an egg hatches a caterpillar.  I want to describe the egg as miniscule.   My spell checker immediately changes it to minuscule.  When I insist that I want miniscule, the word gets a red underline as an error.

So, I looked it up.

Merriam-Webster says:

“Usage Discussion of MINISCULE

The adjective minuscule is etymologically related to minus, but associations with mini- have produced the spelling variant miniscule. This variant dates to the end of the 19th century, and it now occurs commonly in published writing, but it continues to be widely regarded as an error.”  

The OED says:

The word was originally minuscule, borrowed from French. The minuscule spelling has always been the preferred spelling. However, miniscule is not as simple as a typo. According to the OED, the first citation of the miniscule variant is from 1871, so this is a form that has been around quite a long time.

The OED says the following about miniscule:

Variant of MINUSCULE adj., probably arising partly from shift of stress from the second to the first syllable, and partly from association with MINIATURE adj., MINIMUM adj., etc.
So, there are two reasons that miniscule persists as a variant.

The first is the shift in stress. In English, unstressed vowels are often reduced to schwa, [?], no matter what the fully stressed vowel would have been. Minuscule used to always be pronounced with stress on the second syllable (containing the "u"), and was therefore unambiguously an [u] sound. When minuscule began to get stress on the first syllable, it was no longer clear from hearing the word what the second vowel was.

The second was the existence of semantically similar words that contained the spelling mini, such as miniature and minimum. The word mini is associated with small things.

Therefore, a person spelling the word minuscule, having no auditory cues to indicate the spelling "minu", and knowing other smallness words contain "mini", has every logical reason to think the spelling should be "minuscule".


This is a book for children. Am I obliged to use the “correct spelling” or may I get away with the “logical spelling.”

Why does it matter if words are spelled in various ways, if the reader can understand what is meant?  How long does it take for a spelling to become accepted?  1871 is 144 years ago. Do I want to be part of the spelling police, and use the “correct spelling” when I didn’t even know it existed until a few hours ago?

What exactly do I want to pass on to the children who read my book?  Love of butterflies, yes. Love of words, yes.  I have always loved the word miniscule.   And until today I did not know it could be spelled any other way. 

I am sharing the world I love in this book.  Some child may lose the National Spelling Bee if I use the non-standard spelling of minuscule. Is this a reason to continue using a spelling that makes no sense?

And no, I don’t want to use a synonym, like minute or tiny.  I want to use the word that best expresses the smallness of the egg.

I’ve always had a problem with authority.  Now the problem is which authority – my own sense of the right spelling, or that of a dictionary?