"Roundheads and Ramblings"
in the middle of finishing an edit of several chapters of my next book,
I found myself caught up in an internet search for the "correct" use of
a word. I can't reconstruct my series of clicks, but somehow I ended up
following a series of articles on the way language shifts and changes
what we do and what we believe. The technical term for this field of
study is sociolinguistics -- a topic I had never studied. Nevertheless, I
found that I held a number of assumptions, nearly all of which proved
to be wrong. I thought:
1. TV and radio have made the English language more homogenized.
2. Regional dialects are disappearing.
3. Differences in black and white speech are disappearing.
4. There is such a thing as standard American English.
5. Pronunciation is tied to social status.
I've lived in many parts of the U.S. in my adult life. After being
educated in northern Ohio, I've lived in Washington State; Panama City,
Florida; Key West; Ontario, Canada; Colorado; and Tennessee. Almost
everywhere I've traveled, someone has said "You're not from around here,
are you?" My son learned to talk in Canada, and for his entire life, he
could startle me with his pronunciation of the word "about" -- not
"abowt" but "aboot." I said "Huh?" He said "EH?"
I thought those were just small differences.
As an English teacher, I
insisted on "correct English" from my students. But this whole series of
articles seemed bent on proving me wrong: TV has had NO effect on the
way we speak. Regional and ethnic differences are becoming more
distinct. And pronunciation depends almost entirely on where the speaker
lives at any given time. Red States really do differ from Blue States.
Maybe that's why we have so much trouble understanding each other.
article that really caught my attention had to with a regional dialect
known as "Northern English." A map showed that northern English is
spoken in a region that stretches from the shores of the Great Lakes
through Minnesota, with another small section referred to as the "St.
Louis Corridor." I recognized the location; I grew up in it. But here
was the kicker. The writer, an internationally respected sociolinguist,
argued that pronunciations in this region were undergoing a major vowel
shift. It was, he said, a change that started in 1960 and is continuing
today. He offered lots of examples; the one I remember best is the
pronunciation of my middle name -- Ann. He argued that in 1960, Ann was
pronounced with one syllable and a flat, open-mouthed a-- [an].
Today, in Cleveland, Ann is pronounced the same as the name
Ian-[-ee-un]. That kind of vowel shift is as distinct as the one that
occurred in the English language between 1400 and 1600.
first reaction was to say, "No way!" But then I realized that I really
didn't know what I was talking about. I left northern Ohio in 1961, just
as the change began. And I have not been back since, except for short
periods of one to three days. I haven't heard the shift in
pronunciation, but I know that I no longer feel at home there. Maybe you
really can't go home again.
April Fool's Day is this coming Sunday, and I don't want you to miss it. Since my weekend promises to be full of editing and writing, blogging time will be at a premium, so here's your annual warning about the tricks the world may be planning for you. You may avoid the usual office pranks, but while Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, remember that family members will be home, with all too much time on their hands. On April 1st, you can't trust anyone. In fact, you can't trust the month of April itself.
often falls in April, although the calculation of the first Sunday after the
first ecclesiastical full moon (which may not really be full at all) after the
vernal equinox (which is set at March 21, whether it is or not) is
a question best left to astronomers. And
I hope you're not expecting an explanation of what colored eggs and Easter
bunnies have to do with the church holiday.
Suffice it to say that rabbits, tulips, and eggs are all signs of the
new beginnings of Spring and pre-date the celebration of Easter.
Easter does not have to occur in April at all, the one thing we can count on is
that some of us will start April by making fools of ourselves. Did
you ever wonder where April Fool's Day originated? Fools are always with us, of course, but why
is there a special day to call attention to them? One explanation is tied to that confusing
date of Easter. In the calendar devised
by Julius Caesar's astronomers, there were a few too many days. They had posited a year of 365 days and even
added a leap year every four years. But the solar year is a actually 365.242199 days long,
which means that the calendar got ahead of itself by one day every 128
years. By 1582, there were serious
concerns that Easter was not being celebrated on the right day because the
calendar was out of whack.
Gregory XIII declared that something had to be done to restore God's
timetable. His official astronomers went
to work and created the Gregorian calendar, which most Christian countries
still follow. To make up for the ten days that had been added over the
centuries, they cancelled the days between October 5 and October
14. They also declared that
any full century year would not be a leap year unless it was divisible by 40
(so 2000, but not 1900). And while they were at it, they moved the beginning of
the year from April 1 to January 1. Then all they had to do was convince the rest
of Europe to adopt the new calendar.
not as easy as it sounded, especially since a large part of Europe was occupied
by Frenchmen, who did not like being told what to do by an Italian pope. On
April 1, there were New Year's celebrations all over France, while
the rest of the continent made fun of those "poor French fish" who
didn't know what day it was. The first
April Fools Day prank seems to have been pinning a picture of a fish on a
Frenchman's back to show his foolishness.
the jokes have gotten more elaborate, if not more sophisticated. Historians of such things are pretty much
agreed upon the best joke of all time.
In 1957, BBC news ran a picture of a tree festooned with long strands of
spaghetti. The accompanying report
announced that ideal pasta-growing conditions in Switzerland were producing a
bumper crop. Thousands of views wrote or
called to ask where they could by their own spaghetti trees. Inquirers were instructed to plant a strand
of pasta in a can of tomato sauce and hope for the best.
favorites include the pranks played by fast food companies. Taco Bell announced
in 1996 that it had purchased the Liberty Bell, which would from then on be
known as the Taco Liberty Bell. Patriotic
citizens were outraged and besieged Washington D.C. with their demands to
cancel the sale. Two years later, Burger King proudly heralded the creation of
a left-handed Whopper. It would contain
exactly the same ingredients, but everything would be rotated 180 degrees for
the convenience of their left-hand customers.
Customers dutifully ordered one or the other. No foolin'!
Civil War Battle of Shiloh 150th anniversary events include speeches, battles, and tours. This guide to events was written by
More than 40,000 Confederate soldiers faced just over 62,000 Union
troops in a field in western Tennessee on April 6-7, 1862, near a little
church known as Shiloh.
When it was over, the number of dead, wounded or missing totaled
23,746. Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was dead, and his troops
were forced to retreat.
Tennessee’s Shiloh National Military Park will commemorate the 150th anniversary
that landmark 48 hours in American history with a schedule of tours,
discussions and a giant illumination of the park at various times April
4-8. Two re-enactments not affiliated with the park are scheduled March
30 through April 1. Here are highlights:
April 4: Premiere of the film “Shiloh - Fiery Trial” at 7 p.m. at
Pickwick Landing State Park in Pickwick Dam, Tenn. Regular showings
begin April 6 at 7 a.m. in the visitors center.
April 5: The official opening ceremony at 9 a.m. will feature a forum
with some of America’s foremost historians on the battle of Shiloh,
living history demonstrations, a special sesquicentennial Civil War
exhibit with rare and unique artifacts from Shiloh, and music by the
52nd Regimental String Band. Firing of an official Shiloh cannon will
kick off the event.
April 5-8: 150th anniversary battlefield hikes
April 5-7: Local tour guide Jimmy Whittington will lead car caravan
tours around Shiloh Battlefield, departing at 8:30 and 11:30 a.m. and
2:30 p.m. from the visitors center. Tours will last two and a half
hours. Advance registration is suggested.
April 6: Civil War musician and composer Bobby Horton will perform
free at the Shiloh Battlefield visitor center at 7 p.m. He has released
14 volumes of Civil War music on CD and done music scores for PBS and
April 6-8: A display in the visitor center will feature artifacts
relating to the 14th Missouri Infantry (later 66th Illinois), part of
McArthur’s Brigade at the Battle of Shiloh. Exhibits will include
images, letters, postwar memorabilia and an original Dimick rifle.
April 7: A “grand illumination” of the park will feature luminarias
throughout the battlefield representing casualties. The illumination
begins at dusk and will end at 10 p.m. (Rain date is April 14.)
Two re-enactments are planned in conjunction with the anniversary
March 30 through April 1, but not on National Park Service grounds. They
will involve more than 6,000 participants and more than 100 cannons,
coordinated and sponsored by The Armies of Tennessee and the Blue-Gray
The Armies of Tennessee
reenactment will feature a march to Shiloh from Mississippi.
The Blue-Gray Alliance
will transport soldiers by rail and river, as they were 150 years ago,
directly into the battle. Battles are at 1:30 p.m. March 31 and 1:30
April 1 adjacent to the park. Tickets are required.
The Battle of Shiloh was fought on Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee,
near Shiloh Church not far from Savannah, Tenn. Most of the original
battlefield is now Shiloh National Park.
Call 731-689-5696 for more information, find Shiloh on Facebook or Twitter@ShilohNPS
In A Scratch with the Rebels, a new recruit named Gus Smythe represents the Confederate experience. His father was the minister at the Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston. The well-to-do family had shipped young Gus off to college in Columbia in hopes of keeping him out of the war, but when the Confederacy initiated a draft in March 1862, Gus and most of his friends decided to enlist rather than wait. He had first enlisted in a company commanded by Captain Alex Taylor, the father of one of his college friends, but in obedience to his parents' wishes, he immediately requested a transfer to Company A, 24th South Carolina Volunteer Regiment, Hagood's Brigade so that his older brother could keep an eye on him.
By 21 March 1862, he was a soldier in fact as well as in title, and was beginning to learn what soldiering was really like. Although he was camped just a few miles from home, he suffered from homesickness. His frequent letters to his mother give us a good idea of what camp life was like for a new recruit. The following examples appear in A Scratch with the Rebels, Chapter 5:
"Here we are, safe and sound, tho' a little jaded by traveling & the labor of fixing up. We got all our truck down safely, & are now in a measure fixed up, tho' of course we do not feel settled. We were quite hungry aboard of the boat and had to open our haversacks. We are now on Goat's Island, but had to land on Cole's Island with our baggage, and then walk ¾ of a mile to the camp . . . there are too many sand-fleas and mosquitoes here for comfort."
Despite the fact that he had his own slave, Monday, with him to do the cooking and washing up, Gus found less and less to like about soldiering. His letters to his mother tell of snakes and alligators, flies and ticks, "green, slimy water that promises malaria," and sand that was "everywhere, in eatables as well as everything else."
Gus also complained of the short rations provided every three days for his mess, which included his brother Adger, his Uncle Joe, and Monday: hard tack, which the men called "floating batteries," along with 1 ½ oz. sugar, 6 gills of rice, some hominy and salt, and a fair amount of tough beef. Nearly every letter he wrote was filled with requests to send him things that would make his life more comfortable: mosquito "fixin's" [presumably some sort of repellent], fishhooks, "a little bunch of orange blossoms to perfume my tent, and a bundle of candy to sweeten my temper," along with warm socks and another uniform coat.
His most unsoldierly request was for "a piece of homespun, or old table-cloth, or sheet, or anything in that line, that will do us for a tablecloth. The table is a little less that 2 yards long and about 3 ½ feet wide. It is very dirty however and unpleasant to eat off the boards fresh from contact with Monday's hat and our boots, etc." Apparently, no one told him to keep his feet off the table.
Nevertheless, even such callow recruits were a welcome solution to the short-handed army. The Confederacy was entering a new phase of the war, when the harsh realities of warfare required all citizens, from dirt farmer to aristocrat, to relinquish their idealism and fight for their own survival. Under such circumstances, even very young soldiers grew up quickly.
There are dozens of social media
sites on the Internet, and I am certainly no expert on all of them. The big
three—the ones most often used—are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. They serve
different purposes, and I’ve been surprised to see how different their
Let’s start with Facebook, which
now advertises that it has over 500 million users. . . . On my own Facebook account I have
discovered close to 400 “friends.” They include a few family members; a
neighbor or two (although that strikes me as silly); some long-lost high school
classmates; several former students, some dating back over twenty years; and a
fairly large contingent of academics, mostly medievalists. The rest are members
of Lions Clubs or members of the Military Writers Society of America, both
locally and around the world. What can they possibly have in common? I know
them. I’d recognize them on the street. I’d probably hug most of them. They are
all people with whom I have shared both common interests and common
experiences. We’ve worked together, struggled with the same problems, and
shared our ideals and goals. I care about them and how they are doing, and I
hope they care about me.
When it comes to posting my status
on Facebook, I try not to bore my friends or irritate them unduly with efforts
to sell my latest book. But if I have had a wonderful day—or a miserable
one—these are the people with whom I can share it. I post pictures here, both
of myself, so they can watch me age, and of my current activities. It is on
Facebook that I am most open about my personal activities and opinions. What
good does that do for business, you may wonder? Many of my friends will buy my
books; even more will be tickled for me when I win an award. I receive a benefit
when they talk about me or leave a congratulatory note on my wall. Facebook
friends can form a virtual cheering section in our lives, and that’s important. . . .
My second social media outlet is
LinkedIn. As I indicated earlier, this site is much more business-like than
Facebook. I have over 300 connections on LinkedIn, and almost none of them
are cross-overs to my list of Facebook friends. I know less than half of them
personally. My LinkedIn connections are the power-brokers in my world . . . Many of my connections are members of Lions Clubs
International, but they are the leaders in that organization—former
international ofﬁcers, staff members, or CEOs of Lions-associated non-proﬁt organizations.
They are people I can turn to when I need business-type advice. The rest are
business ﬁgures with whom I have had some contact, and media and public
How can they help build my
publishing platform? Well, my ﬁnancial advisor, my lawyer, and my accountant
are on that list, along with public ﬁgures who can orchestrate newspaper or TV
coverage when I have an announcement of a new book or an award. They are the
people who can help set up book signings or public speaking engagements. They
are great contacts because they have their own contacts.
Another great advantage of
LinkedIn is that it lets people with common interests form discussion lists,
where they can connect with people who have similar interests or who are facing
similar problems. I currently participate in several writers’ groups, as well
as one that discusses fund-raising ideas for non-proﬁts.
And then there is Twitter. What can
you possibly accomplish with 140 spaces? The easy answer, of course, it that it
teaches you to cram a lot of information into the smallest possible space.
Brevity is good. But beyond that, I see Twitter as a conduit—the vital link
between me and the huge world of the Internet.
At the moment I have around 800
followers on Twitter, and I’ll be the ﬁrst to admit that I don’t know many of
them. We are strangers who have made a brief connection because of a third
party who knows us both, or because we have a common involvement. They are
simply people who have indicated an interest in what I might have to say. When
they follow me, anything I post will automatically appear on each of their
Twitter feeds. They may, or may not, ever see it. But when they do, they each
have the option of passing it on to their own followers, giving my message
access to untold numbers of readers. Twitter also has the ability to post
automatic messages for me, and to re-post my messages to my other social media
Here’s how it works. Suppose I’ve
ﬁnished a blog post announcing the publication of a new book and including a
link to the book’s order page. I send it to my 800 followers, and Twitter also
posts it on my Facebook page (+400 readers) and my LinkedIn proﬁle (+300
readers.) Then a dear fellow writer in England retweets it to her whole list
(+1000 readers), the president of a writers’ society to which I belong retweets
it to her list (+1250), and three faithful blog followers in Missouri,
California, and Colorado send it to all their followers (+1700 total). That one
personal message reaches over 5000 people within minutes. That’s the best, and
easiest, advertising I know.