Friday 5: Nor Any Drop to Drink


What’s a memory you have of a nearby stream?

At some point during my elementary school years, our church congregation (or maybe just us kids) realized that the church’s property didn’t extend to the edge of the parking lot, but all the way across a neighboring field. We took this as a license to immediately tear through the long grass and down to the tree line to see if we could find anything, and were pleasantly surprised to find a crick we didn’t know about. It was full of mint leaves and skunk cabbage and interesting rocks, and the whole thing felt distinctly magical. It left enough of an impression that I wrote about it for a school writing assignment later that school year.

We never went exploring there again, as far as I can remember. Something about it not being entirely church property. Or maybe parents told us that to keep us from running off and playing unattended.

The world is a lot bigger and has a lot more magic when you’re a child.

What’s a good film scene or song lyric involving a river?

Hm. A two-fer first.

I have a great track by the indie band Brother called “River,” but it’s not on YouTube so that gem will just have to stay hidden for now.

What fond memory do you have of a lake?

My family spent a week at a hunting cabin in Vermont for maybe a dozen summers, right on Tinmouth Pond (officially Lake Chapman). No TV, no Internet, just the woods and the water. We always spent a day or two at the nearby Emerald Lake state park as well. I LOVERMONT!

What’s the most fascinating sea creature?

I was obsessed with dolphins for years, but as an adult I have to admit that they are . . . kind of assholes? The same goes for orcas (which apparently are technically dolphins, not whales?). So I don’t know what to think about sea animals anymore. How about octopuses? They’re cool.

What’s something that caused you to cry tears of laughter?

The only times I end up crying with laughter are those times where I’m laughing at how much I/someone else is laughing, usually over something not that funny, which then makes it even funnier, and then I’m laughing at myself laughing at someone laughing at the unfunny joke, and it just keeps snowballing. Like, for example, one time it was a really cheesy Weekly World News cover image of a fish with . . . hands? a human face? Something like that.

Greek and Latin Prefixes: O and P

Another prefix post brought to you by the letters “O” and “P.” (As per Greek and Latin Roots, there aren’t any Greek- or Latin-derived prefixes in English beginning with “N,” so we’re skipping ahead a bit here.)

Prefixes are morphemes that you can attach to word stems. (You can browse that link for previous posts on classically derived word stems.) Generally speaking, prefix changes word meaning, not word function.

Here are previous entries in this series on prefixes:

Prefix Meaning Example
ob* up against, in the way obstruct
para aside, apart paramedic, paranormal
per through, thorough; wrongly permeate, persecute
peri around perimeter
poly many polytheism
post after postpone
pre before precedent
pro forward, ahead, for promotion, provoke

*”Ob” tends to change form arbitrarily. (This is probably not arbitrary; there are probably linguistic or phonological reasons some changes happen or some don’t. But it can seem arbitrary.) “Ob” is still connected to words like “oppose” or “offend.”

Stockholm March for Science: Why I’m Marching

I’m marching for science today, and so can you! You can find a local march at the official March for Science website. If you’re in Stockholm, I’ll be a volunteer with the activities at Medborgarplatsen at the end of the march. Come say hi, listen to some awesome and knowledgeable speakers, and try some cool science stuff!

At first blush, the March for Science doesn’t seem particularly relevant to my work as either a copyeditor or a language instructor. For me, though, the two fields are very much intertwined.

First and foremost, the bulk of my copyediting work has been academic work in the sciences, ranging from the “soft” to the “hard.” Science—as in the international practice of engaging in and publishing research—is my bread and butter. I consider myself a junior varsity member of the #scicomm team, and I hope that in some small way my copyediting work is helping further both research in general and the careers of well-deserving individuals. The same is true for tutoring. Many of the students I work with are either scientists (or science-adjacent), or have aspirations of finally working in that role: would-be engineers, biologists, chemistry teachers. While it might be naive to think that speaking a single language would erase any and all conflict, it certainly helps us communicate to and mobilize large groups in a timely fashion, and nowhere do we need timely communication and mobilization than in science. English isn’t necessarily the best tool for that, but it’s the one we have right now, and the more people who can use it, the better.

It isn’t just about my own work, though. It’s also a question of principles. The scope of copyediting generally includes a commitment to facts and the truth, as well as to clarity. A good copyeditor and a good scientist are both skeptics at heart. Neither one is an automaton who thoughtlessly applies rules and nothing more; they both take a look at what they think is correct, wonder if there are alternatives, and constantly come up against their own preconceived notions.

Moreover, since we think, theorize, and discover with language, it is inextricably connected with science. Just as science has shown us that, for example, gender and sex are much more complicated and nuanced than we originally thought, so do our language guardians help put forward and promote that new paradigm by enforcing new language norms that more accurately reflect reality. The (mostly tired, mostly worn out) debate over singular they, for example, isn’t just about social norms or “identity politics”; it is also about how, in tandem with a better scientific understanding, we have changed language to include groups of people who didn’t fit in the original, inaccurate paradigm. It’s about (among other things) physicalbiological norms. As our science improves, our knowledge increases, and how we use that language affects how we spread (or don’t) that new knowledge. On a darker note, this is why “newspeak” was such an integral part of the dystopia Orwell imagined in 1984. As a writer, Orwell understood the power that language has over thought. Language, like science, needs to be open and accessible to everyone so that it can be used as a power for good—eradicating any number of biases—and not evil—desensitizing us to the complexity and humanity of others.

Greek and Latin Prefixes: I and M

Another prefix post brought to you by the letters “I” and “M.” (As per Greek and Latin Roots, there aren’t any Greek- or Roman-derived prefixes in English beginning with “K” or “L,” so we’re skipping ahead a bit here.

Prefixes are morphemes that you can attach to word stems to form completely new words. Prefixes in particular tend to change a word’s meaning (rather than a word’s part of speech). If you’d like, you can read more about English root words derived from Greek and Latin. Those are the stems or base words to which these prefixes can (theoretically) be added.

Here are previous entries in this series on prefixes:

Prefix Meaning Example
in, im, il not (negative) inequity, improper, illegal
in, im, il in, on, onto (directional) induct, impose, illuminate
infra beneath infrastructure
inter between, among intervene
mega, megalo big megachurch, megalomaniac
meta* across, change metamorphosis
micro small microcosm
mis wrongly misinterpret, mistake
multi many multivitamin

*”Meta” has also taken on its own meaning of something like “above” or “outside of.” Something that deals with the metaphysical, in everyday language, is almost synonymous with supernatural, or realities that people perceive as being above or beyond our own.** Scholars refer to metatexts and metatextual discourse: texts that are about another text. Stories that refer to the fact that they are stories, and where the person or people writing want to remind you that this is a story, are often casually described as meta. A recent example of a meta movie would be Deadpool, a superhero movie where the lead character constantly takes breaks from the action to directly address the audience and generally exists outside the story as well as within it. And while only fairly intense scholars will throw around words like “metatextual,” even casual audiences will describe a book or movie as “meta.”

**As a student of philosophy, I have to be pedantic and point out that that the word metaphysics was originally used to describe the line of philosophical inquiry that focused the nature of the reality we see here and now, not reincarnation and chakras and auras. The two meanings of “metaphysics”/”metaphysical” are related, but not identical.

Friday 5: Gimme One Reason

This is the Friday 5 from April 7, which I didn’t get around to answering for pretty obvious reasons.

Now I’m a week behind on Friday 5 posts, but that works out for me. The questions sometimes go up relatively late in the day (at least here in Stockholm), so it used to be a bit of a rush to get them out on time. Now I have a whole week to answer them!

First, some appropriate tunes:

What makes you unreasonably irritated?

I like to think that most of the things that irritate me are reasonable. 😉

What are you unreasonably particular about?

Punctuation! Spelling! Grammar! Language usage! But then, only if you pay me to be. Or if I think you’re someone who should know better. (A book I was otherwise enjoying from Kindle Press talked about a “heart-warming antidote.” I hope someone will fix that in an updated edition, because the author and the rest of the story deserve better!)

What’s something that’s unreasonably complicated?

Oh man, doing taxes. I don’t mind paying them, because I understand they’re a necessary part of a functioning society, but all of the surrounding paperwork is nightmarish, and I don’t think it needs to be. The US, compared to many other countries, has a nightmarish and needlessly complicated tax-paying process (as opposed to needless or oppressive taxes). In Sweden, for example, most people can just pay their taxes by SMS. It’s not quite that easy for me, as a freelancer, but it’s also not so bad. There are also multiple umbrella companies out there whose sole purpose is to make the whole tax process easier for freelancers; I just made life harder for myself for no good reason.

I think if we revamped the tax-filing and tax-paying system and made it easier and less of a hassle, more Americans wouldn’t be so incensed about paying taxes.

What are the best reasons for working in your field?

As far as teaching goes, it’s immensely satisfying to feel like you are immediately and concretely making someone’s life better. Your work isn’t useless or pointless. Unfortunately, this idealism is too often leveraged against teachers, effectively bullying them into working beyond their paygrade or the original scope of their work, because how dare they prioritize something like money above their students?

My feelings about copyediting are similar. You’re helping someone create the best product possible. You can see the results of your work immediately and you know that it matters (to the author, if no one else!). People at least seem to value copyeditors a little more than teachers—at least, their commitment to helping others isn’t used as a bargaining chip to deny copyeditors the pay or resources they deserve and need to do their job.

What are some good reasons for the most recent silly purchase you made?

I don’t typically make “silly” purchases. The closest thing to a silly purchase that I’ve made at all recently was some shredded cauliflower marketed as “cauliflower rice.” I know it’s a marketing tactic (“cauliflower rice” sounds more appealing than “shredded cauliflower”; people generally like rice more than they like cauliflower), but I just wanted some pre-shredded cauliflower. I knew it wasn’t going to taste like rice, and I wasn’t buying it because I thought it would, so I don’t know if that really counts.

Book Review: Otto and the Flying Twins

I picked up Otto and the Flying Twins at a library sale some months ago, and in an odd coincidence (given the book’s subject matter) I had it in my bag while I was stranded in town on Friday.

Author: Charlotte Haptie

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.62 stars

Language scaling: B2+

Recommended audience: Fantasy aficionados

In-depth thoughts: Teachers wishing to address prejudice and The Holocaust could do worse than to include Otto and the Flying Twins in the curriculum.

On the surface, it’s a whimsical fantasy story about an evil queen (though in an updated form of an evil councilwoman) trying to eradicate magic from the city, and the young boy and his magical friends who stop her. But dig a little deeper and it’s hard to deny the parallels with pre-World War II Germany: the “magicos” are declared inferior and a threat to the city’s well-being, relegated to ghettos or sent to work in moonstone mines.

It’s hard to strike a balance between light whimsy and serious hardship, and my only complaint with the book is that Haptie never finds a good balance; despite some serious moments, the mood tilts very heavily towards “fun fantasy.” Rather than address the very real problem that hatred and prejudice is built up over lifetimes and generations, Haptie compresses what was probably two or three centuries of anti-Semitic sentiment that contributed to the Holocaust into just a couple of years and the flimsiest of pretenses—essentially, one individual’s personal grudge. (And greed, but arguably it’s something like greed that drives people to blame The Other for economic woes, so that’s not so unrealistic after all.)

But it’s a fantasy book for middle grade readers, not Holocaust scholarship. I realize this is a very high-level nitpick, and I’m willing to overlook it because everything else about the book was delightful.

Anyone familiar with YA and middle grade tropes will see some of them refreshingly subverted or avoided. The titular Otto isn’t The Chosen One; that’s actually his dad, Albert who does much of the heroics (if off-screen). Otto is, of course, gifted with what everyone considers The Best Power Ever, but it’s well-balanced: neither over-powerful enough to render his friends useless, nor so under-powered that we wonder why anyone values such a power in the first place.

When his mom finds out that Albert hid his Karmidee heritage from her, she lashes out at him and spends most of the rest of the book angry at him, for ugly reasons (internalized prejudice) as well as respectable ones (building a life with someone only to find out they’ve lied about a very important part of themselves is bound to be a shocker). It’s a response that feels very human, especially because she balances it with protecting her family. There’s nothing worse than conflict driven by one or more parties being willfully stupid. Instead, Dolores does what she can to protect her undeniably magical family and keeps her frustration with Albert separate.

Otto’s obligatory female sidekick, Mab, isn’t presented as a love interest, which is refreshing—but this might be due to the target audience (the story feels and reads much more middle grade than YA). She’s not entirely useful, it feels like, except to explain things to Otto (and by extension, the reader).

The language in this book is something to behold. There is an air of genuine whimsy in this that I found lacking in Harry Potter. (Well, either lacking or totally oppressive.) Normal Police, widges, dammerung, an Impossible List . . . Haptie takes well-worn fantasy tropes and adds her own unique spin to them.

Otto and the Flying Twins is the first in a trilogy of books. I get the impression that they were meant to be a longer series, but seeing as the last one was published in 2006, I think it’s safe to say that the series stops at three books. If you can find it, get it. Otto and the Flying Twins is a great example of middle grade fantasy at its finest. More than that, it’s a great jumping-off point to discuss prejudice and resistance—topics that are going to be quite relevant for the next few years.

Katherine Koba Marked Herself Safe During the Attack in Stockholm

Today was not a really great day. And even though I’m alive and well, I’m feeling a little shaken. I was on my way to meet a student near Hötorget when everything happened; I ended up stranded in town until well after eight. Thanks to #openstockholm I had a cozy seat out of the wind, dinner with wine, and an Uber back to my apartment in Enskede once things had calmed down. Swedes are accused of being shy, but I’ve always thought that an unfair characterization. I think #openstockholm proved my point.

I also go to a writer’s meet-up right along that stretch of Drottninggatan. It’s so strange me to think that a stretch of the town I visit frequently and often share with friends in low-quality cell phone pictures is now marked by death. Am I going to see skid marks when I meet people for writing and fika next week? Dried blood? Disturbances? Impromptu memorials? There will be no question that I’ll travel into town—I don’t intend to hide or to let my daily life be impacted—but I wonder how much will be changed, and how much will not.

Needless to say, I’ll be putting aside the Friday 5 for this week, even as I recognize I could have been much, much worse off. This is a good time for all of us to check: are we able to help, beyond thoughts and prayers? I’m a registered organ donor, but am (to my chagrin!) not yet registered to give blood. (Blodcentralen is accepting donations, but only for donors who are already registered; I’ll have to feed the vampires another time.) If any of you are A+ and a registered donor, you can give instead of me. 🙂 They have enough for the wounded, but will need to replenish their supplies.


Pic entirely unrelated. I just wanted to look at something cute.

National Poetry Month 2017: Allen Ginsberg

Finding a poet or poem to celebrate for National Poetry Month today was difficult for me. Like I said last year, I’m not really a fan of poetry.

The rare exception is Beat poets. I was born perpetually looking backwards, always joking I’d been born thirty years too late. (And then the universe saw fit to grant me that poorly-expressed wish on November 9 last year.) From a young age I was fixated on hippie counterculture, as well as its predecessor: The Beats. One of my self-directed research projects at school was on Allen Ginsberg. I don’t remember where or when I first read “Howl“, but there was something so new and so weird and so arresting about it that I wanted more. Tragically, I’m separated from my Ginsberg collection—Planet News, Collected Poems, and his journals—but I can direct you to some of my favorites.

I think my all-time favorite is actually “Sunflower Sutra“:

We’re not our skin of grime, we’re not dread bleak dusty imageless locomotives, we’re golden sunflowers inside, blessed by our own seed & hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our own eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening sitdown vision.

America” feels apropos, even today.

If you have the time, you can also listen to him read “Kaddish.”

Book Review: The Radium Girls: The Dark History of America’s Shining Women

I knew about the radium girls in the vaguest of senses thanks to an offhand mention in The Radioactive Boy Scout, a book I read a few years ago. Silverstein mentions that scores of workers (women, mostly) in the dial-painting factories became ill and even died from their work, but since that’s largely a footnote in the story of David Hahn, Silverstein doesn’t go into much detail about it. I didn’t think about it any further until last year, when I saw that an available book on NetGalley was Kate Moore’s The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women, adapted from and inspired by Melanie March’s play These Shining Lives.

Author: Kate Moore

My GoodReads rating: 5 stars

Average Goodreads rating: 4.35 stars

Language scaling: B2/C1+

Recommended audience: Readers interested in the early 20th century American labor movement, women’s history, or the history of radium and radioactivity.

Content warning: While it’s only brief parts of the book, Moore does not mince words to describe the effects of radium poisoning on the women in question.

The cover of Kate Moore's "Radium Girls: The Dark History of America's Shining Women"

In-depth thoughts: I wavered between 4 and 5 stars for this book. The story is harrowing and written well overall, but at some points all of the information becomes more overwhelming than anything else. Moore also has a tic of spending a lot of time on the physical description of almost everyone involved; as someone who relates strongly to descriptions of aphantasia, it’s not surprising that I would not find detailed descriptions of people’s appearances compelling. Other readers will no doubt appreciate Moore’s dedication to making these stories as real as possible. Finally, the Kindle version had some display and formatting errors, mostly based around the small-caps font used for the newspaper headlines and photos (there weren’t any).

In the end I decided on 5 stars because I think my issues were with the formatting rather than the content, and because I think everyone should read this book.

I have to admit, I was not entirely prepared for what I read. I know enough about radiation poisoning to know that the women employed in these factories suffered, and suffered a lot. That’s a biological reality I knew going in. It was how steadfastly the companies refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing that was the most shocking and the most viscerally upsetting. Their legal battles dragged on for years—over a decade. It’s one thing to lose an arm or the use of your legs and have a workman’s comp case take a few years. It’s another thing for the case to go on for 13 years when you’re dying of cancer.

The radium corporations insisted that the sick, dying, and dead women were already in poor health when they started work; they refused to release medical examination records; they insisted that the cause of death in a few cases was syphilis, not radium poisoning. They claimed in one case that radium was a poison and therefore not covered by existing workman’s compensation laws; after the law was changed to include poison, they turned around in another case and claimed that radium wasn’t poisonous at all.

People talking about #resisting in this weird new era we live in also talk about the importance of surrounding yourself with stories of people being courageous and doing the right thing. I think that makes The Radium Girls a book we should all be reading. It serves as both an inspiration and a warning.