Ponderings from a Procrastinating Prognosticator

Archive for December, 2011

SHORT STORY: A BUCKET OF BOLTS

Posted by samatwitch on December 24, 2011

This is the last of my past group challenges (we have one coming up in January). It was for Christmas and had to contain the words turkey, cinnamon and spaceship.  As usual, I put them all in the first paragraph. 😉

A BUCKET OF BOLTS

“You turkey!” Cinnamon slammed her hand on the table next to Sage.  “In the name of the goddess, why would you buy a spaceship?  It’s not as if we can leave this planet.”

Sage waited for Cinnamon’s anger to abate.  She could erupt like one of the volcanoes on Absinthe, but she calmed down a lot faster – and with much less damage – usually.

“It’s just a small one, Cinnamon.  It was in the used ‘ship lot I pass on my way to work.  It hadn’t sold for so long, they marked it down really low.”

“It’s red!”

“Well, that way it can be seen in any weather and other ‘ships will avoid it.”

“Oh, I’m sure the other ‘ships will avoid it, alright.  It looks as if it will fall right out of the sky in front of them.”

“Nonsense, it has a great engine in it.  It’s only ‘ships with Capissen 38 engines that do that.”

“You hope.”  Cinnamon sounded resigned.  Good, that meant she was starting to come around.  “I guess we might as well keep it; I’m sure the dealers have taken your money and run by now anyway.  Face it, Sage, they saw you coming a light year away!  That ‘ship is nothing but a bucket of bolts.  Does it even fly at all?”

“It will,” Sage replied, “I just need to tinker with it a bit.  I don’t think anyone’s looked after it for years.”

Cinnamon shook her head, but she was smiling.  You had to love a man who was confident in his ability to fix anything.  And his confidence was not misplaced.  Sage had yet to meet a machine he couldn’t improve.

“Let me know when it’s ready for a test run,” she said with resignation.

“Of course.”  Sage smiled at her knowingly.  “I wouldn’t go up without my favourite test pilot.  The trouble with you is you’re so used to those big spaceliners that you fly, that you don’t appreciate the little ‘ships anymore.”

“I appreciate anything that actually flies,”  Cinnamon stated, “and I haven’t see this one do that yet.”

“It will,” Sage promised, “I’ll have it in the air before the Christmas celebrations.”

Christmas was one of those quaint customs that had come to the outer planets with the original settlers, but its roots were lost in the light years and centuries of the past.  Nobody Sage knew remembered little more than just before the end of the year there was a celebration with lights and lots of food.  Legend had it that an old fat man in a red suit flew around the planet delivering presents to children, all in one night.  Since they had both been brought up on Coriander, he and Cinnamon had never experienced such a tradition, but Sage was a realist, as well as a mechanic and he knew there was no possible way that any spacecraft could accomplish such a feat.  True, Pegasus wasn’t a very big planet, but facts were facts: to visit every child on the planet would have taken many more hours than were available in a single night.

Sage spent every spare moment he had on his little red spaceship, tinkering, tuning and replacing parts.  One of the perks of being the city’s (and, truth be told, planet’s) best spaceship mechanics was that he was able to get parts at a discount, sometimes even free.  He always knew when a ‘ship was being sold for scrap but still had parts that were salvageable.  His affinity to make a ‘ship fly when everyone else had given up on it was legendary.

Finally, he was ready.  Sage called Cinnamon out to the shipport to go for a test flight.

“You cut that close,” she grinned.

“I said I’d have it ready before the Christmas celebrations and I do,” Sage protested.

“The afternoon before.”

“Do you want to go for a ride or not?” he asked.

“Of course.  Are you flying or am I?”

“I’ll do the test run.” Sage decided.  “Hop in.”

Off they went, soaring up in the low clouds.  Cinnamon had to hand it to Sage once again.  Her husband sure knew how to make a spaceship fly as it probably had never flown before.   It handled well, seeming to avoid obstacles even before Sage was aware of them – and he was a good pilot.  Not as good as Cinnamon, of course, but who was?

After having put the ship through all the tests he could think of, Sage turned to go home and was astounded to realize how far they had traveled in such a short time.  He and Cinnamon had been so absorbed in putting the ship through its paces, they hadn’t paid much attention to the distance they’d covered.

Now they realized they were on the other side of the planet, heading home at a great rate.

“Wow,” said Cinnamon, impressed, “you really got some speed out of the old bucket of bolts.”

They returned home without incident, parking the shiny red spaceship in the yard next to all the other ‘ships Sage was working on.

Before they could enter their house, they were interrupted by their neighbour.  They’d never seen Sandy looking so excited and anxious.  Of course, they hadn’t known him that long and they had hardly seen him at all over the last month, but he had always seemed very happy and calm.

“Where did you get that spaceship?” he demanded without even waiting for a ‘hello’.

“In the used ‘ship lot on the other side of town,” replied Sage, puzzled.

“I’ve been looking all over for him,” Sandy exclaimed.  “He was stolen last year right after Christmas and I looked everywhere.  I finally thought I would have to manage without him this year but I didn’t think I could, especially with this fog rolling in.”

Sage looked out and sure enough, a thick fog was starting to blanket the city.

“What are you talking about, Sandy?” he asked.  “I bought the ‘ship legally.  I have the papers…”

“I don’t care about the papers.”  Sandy brushed that aside.  “I just need Rudy for tonight.”

Sage was getting a little impatient.  Maybe his neighbour wasn’t quite as stable as they had thought.

Cinnamon joined the conversation.  “Who’s Rudy and what do you want with our spaceship.”

“Rudy is my red spaceship and I need him to help me deliver presents to children all over the world tonight.  I must leave now or I won’t get to all the children.  I’ll have him back by morning.”

Sage and Cinnamon exchanged looks.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s the night before Christmas.  I’m Sandy Close and I deliver presents to all the children on the planet before sunrise.  Rudy is my guiding ship.  He can see through fog and rain and has the speed that I need to guide my sleigh.”

Cinnamon and Sage looked at their neighbour, astounded.

“You really do that?”  wondered Sage.

“Yes, yes,” Sandy answered impatiently, “but I need to leave right away.  May I borrow Rudy tonight?  I promise I’ll bring him back tomorrow and you can ask me any questions you want.”

Sage looked at Cinnamon.  “We did find it strange that the ‘ship went as far and as fast as it did on our test run.”

“I know, but what he’s saying just isn’t possible scientifically.”

“Of course, it isn’t,” Sandy agreed.  “It’s not science, it’s magic.  But even magic has rules and I only have so many hours to fulfill my duty.”

“Fine,” shrugged Cinnamon.  “But if that ‘ship isn’t back in our yard by tomorrow morning, we will be calling the authorities.”

“Thank you, thank you, good neighbours.”  Sandy shook their hands enthusiastically.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that, he let out a piercing whistle and bounded across the street to where a strange contraption awaited.  It was big enough for Sandy and a huge red sack that perched on the back and had eight four-legged creatures with horns attached to it.  In answer to the whistle, Sage’s newest acquisition had flown across the street and now hovered in front of the animals.  With another whistle, it took off, followed by the animals and the open spacecraft, which were now flying through the air.  Circling his astounded neighbours, Sandy Close yelled down to them, “Merry Christmas, Cinnamon and Sage, and have a good night.”

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POEMS: TIME, A Series

Posted by samatwitch on December 22, 2011

I wrote these poems one night a few weeks after my mother died in July 1987, when I couldn’t sleep.  I started out in generalised terms and by the third poem had gotten down to the heart of what I was feeling.

TIME I

This can’t be all there is.
These years we call our life on Earth.
The microspeck of time.
In the vast eternity we know as forever,
The tiny dot that we call Earth
Is just one of billions in infinity.
Are we forever chained to this sphere?

I think not.

There are other worlds and times to explore,
Constantly changing, as are we;
Our knowledge of the Universe and ourselves,
Growing every day.

Can we ignore our inner yearnings for more?

To know we are not alone,
Set down haphazardly
As the only intelligent life
In a vast expanse of stars and suns.
Our inner senses tell us differently.
But until we learn to live
In peace and love on this planet,
We cannot expect to know others.

TIME II

Time flies by on winged feet
Or crawls at a snail’s pace.
It stands still when you most want it to hurry,
And stretches a moment like elastic.

Time can be friend or foe,
Not lingering to let us savour the moment,
But speeding by
To try to trap us in the here and now.

So let us enjoy each moment,
Tasting fully of its fruit,
And planting seeds which will
Sprout in our past and futures
As full-blown reality.

TIME III

Seven weeks.
An infinity or a brief moment.
Joy and love,
Pleasure and pain,
Hope and fear,
Laughter and tears.

A lifetime compressed into seven weeks.
Strength I didn’t know I had
To continue living
As my last link to childhood
Crumbled around me.

No longer would my mother tell stories of our growing up –
Or hers.
No longer would she disapprove of my decisions,
But love me anyway.
No longer would her smiling face and open arms
Greet me at the door of their home,
Always glad to see me.

Time has stolen my mother, even though her spirit lives on.

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POEM: MEMORIES

Posted by samatwitch on December 19, 2011

MEMORIES

Silent as wraiths
Memories slip in and out of my mind,
Grey mists parting briefly to allow
A glimpse of some long-forgotten world:
A birthday party when I was five,
with balloons and cake and ice-cream and hats;
My first kiss, that innocent touching of lips,
Not knowing what to expect;
The first time death entered my life –
A family friend, barely out of her teens.
Happy memories and sad,
Every waking moment of my life,
Every sleeping moment, too,
Recorded in my mind for all time.

Posted in Writing - Poems | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

SHORT STORY: THE ROBINS

Posted by samatwitch on December 14, 2011

Another group writing challenge, this was for Hallowe’en 2006.  A fire had damaged a local newspaper office and the challenge was to come up with an explanation for that.  Here’s mine.

 THE ROBINS

“Hey mister, you okay?”

The man lying on the ground couldn’t make out the words, but he instinctively tried to reach the voice.  He stretched out his left hand as far as he could and tried to turn in the direction of the voice.

“Please, help me.”  The man’s voice was so weak as to be almost non-existent.  “I need help.”

Gravel crunched under cautious footsteps as Walter neared the outstretched man.

“Hey, mister,” said a voice near his head, “do you need some help?”

“Need help,” the man repeated.

Walter jumped and looked down as he felt something brush his ankle.  The man was reaching out with his hand.

“Please,” he whispered, “. . .  call . . .  doctor . . . warn her.”

“I’ll run home and call 911,” Walter suggested.

“No, no, not the police.”  The man was so agitated, he struggled to sit up, only to fall back limply.

Walter looked apprehensively at the man.  He couldn’t see any blood or wounds anywhere, but the man certainly didn’t look well.   Maybe he had fallen and hurt his head.  He remembered his mother waking him up periodically when he’d had a concussion during a hockey practice.

“Mister,” he asked quietly, “where do you hurt?  Is it your head?”

“Unnh,” groaned the man.

Walter persisted, “What’s your name?”

“Robin . . . Seven.”

“Robin Seven?  Okay, Mr. Seven…”

“Just Robin,” said the man.

“Okay, Robin, I think you better try to stay awake until the ambulance gets here.  You don’t look so good.”

“No ambulance.”  The man became agitated again.  “Call doctor.”

“I don’t have a phone.  The hospital can call your doctor.”

“No, no.”  This time Mr. Seven managed to raise himself up slightly.  With great difficulty, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and  pulled out what must be the world’s smallest cell phone.  He pressed one button but even that effort seemed to be too much for him and he collapsed onto the hard ground, the device rolling out of his hand.

Walter looked at him anxiously and hoped someone would come by soon.  He was off the main roads, but surely somebody would drive by on their way to work.  He had the day off because his teachers were on a course, but it was a Thursday after all.

Walter was sure the man – Robin – wasn’t getting any better lying on the cold damp road, but he didn’t want to move him.  Walter walked around the man to pick up his phone.  Even though it was a dull February day, light was beginning to filter through the trees lining the road and when Walter picked up the object, it was clear that this wasn’t any kind of cell phone that he had ever seen.  He put it back in the man’s pocket, noting a smoky smell when he bent over.  As he straightened, his hand touched the man’s arm beneath his sleeve and he found Robin’s skin to be cool.  Walter wished he had a blanket.  Maybe he should take off his jacket and put it on top of the man.

Just then he heard a thumping sound and he looked up to see a helicopter about to land on the road in front of him.

The helicopter landed and two men, looking very much like the man lying on the ground, jumped out, followed more slowly by an older woman in a white coat.  They all looked as surprised to see Walter as he was to see them.

“He was talking to me a few minutes ago,” he offered.

Three heads swivelled towards him.

“What did he say?” barked the woman.

“Just that his name was Robin Seven and he wanted me to call his doctor.  I don’t have a phone, but I think he called someone on his.”

The three people exchanged looks.

“Anything else?”

“No, he couldn’t tell me where he was hurt, but there’s no blood that I can see,” replied Walter, relieved that help had arrived and yet feeling as if something was not quite right.  Why were they standing asking him questions when the man obviously needed medical attention?

As if she could hear Walter’s thoughts, the woman looked down at Robin and murmured, “You have served us well, Seven.”

Turning to the other two men, she motioned to the man on the ground, “Four, Nine, please take him back to the helicopter.”

The two younger men picked up Robin, one at his head and one taking his feet.

Walter stared in astonishment and growing anger.  He’d watched enough medical shows on TV in his young life to know that something was very wrong.

“Hey, what are you doing?  Who are you?  Where’s the stretcher or your medical bags?”

The woman shook her head slowly.

“I am Dr. Rudolph.  I created the Robin series.”

“Robin series?  What are you talking about?”  Walter felt as if he were in a dream.  What was going on?

“The Robin series of robots,” the doctor explained patiently.  “ROBIN stands for ROBotic INtelligence.  I have created artificial life so that I could place the ROBINS in positions of authority at various CanWest media.  ROBIN 7 was placed at the North Shore News, but his position was compromised when the staff there started going through their archived material for their 35th anniversary and someone realised that he hadn’t aged at all in the last twenty years.  He had to get rid of the evidence and set the building on fire.  Unfortunately, he must have overloaded his circuitry and only made it this far before he collapsed.  With the damage, we couldn’t track him until he pressed the button on his old-fashioned homing device.  But now he’ll be taken home and recycled.”

Walter’s eyes were near to popping.  He had so many questions he thought his head would explode, including the nagging feeling that the doctor shouldn’t be telling him this.

He managed to stammer, “Why?  Why would you put robots at newspapers?”

“Oh,  not just at newspapers, at TV stations, too.  It’s the only way to control what news people hear.  Unfortunately, somehow I wasn’t able to get the ROBINs situated at all the news media, just CanWest and its subsidiaries, but that was a good start – they own most of the news sources around here anyway.”  The doctor shrugged and then started towards Walter.

Walter started to run but he had been so absorbed in what the doctor was saying that he hadn’t noticed the other two men – robots, too, he guessed – coming up behind him.  They grabbed him by the arms while the doctor approached with a needle which she inserted into Walter’s neck.

“Just a pinch, boy, and then you will remember nothing of this conversation.  You won’t be aware of us at all and you will return home with memories of a pleasant morning walk.”

Walter started walking in the direction of his home, oblivious to the helicopter taking off behind him.  When he entered the house, his mother asked, “Anything exciting happen on your walk, Walter?”

“No,” he answered at he went into the living room to turn on the news.

Posted in Writing - Short Stories | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

POEM: REALITY

Posted by samatwitch on December 13, 2011

REALITY

I used to dream of giants and witches
Peering in the windows of my life.
but that’s absurd.
There are no such things,
Are there?
If we appear as mighty giants
To small creatures of our world,
Could there not be creatures of another world
Who would appear the same to us?

Posted in Writing - Poems | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

POEM: THE GAME

Posted by samatwitch on December 11, 2011

This was another of our group writing challenges.  I don’t remember what words we had to use except for black hole.

THE GAME

In 1492, Columbus may have sailed the ocean blue,
But in 2540, Devreker thought he might be late
For his game of gerfen on his date.
Martissa was getting over the flu
And was quite restless with lots to do
That she’d put off while she was sick
But a game of gerfen was her pick.
How could Devreker say no to that
When Martissa’s wishes made her cat
Purr like her mistress – loud and tuneful –
And made the heavens bright and moonfull.

The object of this game, you see,
Was to hit a planet around the course
By computer only, not by horse.
Nine planets there were, since Pluto came back,
And getting them anywhere took a great whack
Of courage and momentum, which led to the winner,
But it was worth it for the prize dinner
Of gargantuan portions – winner’s choice –
And enough libation to make you rejoice.

Only once had Devreker scored big at this game
But it was enough to present his name
As the only android to score a with a splat
A hole in one – a black hole at that!

X marks the spot where the game begins
And nobody stops playing until somebody wins
By getting a planet in each of nine holes
Using a stick and very long poles.
One can play on one’s own
Or with others on their phones
By computer or mind to mind
Whatever is easiest to find
Is how the game can be played
As long as the scores can be made.
Days it can take for all players to go
Taking turns with each planet and so
When a game ends it ends with a bang
With whistles and cheers and all the bells rang.

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REMEMBERING MISS MOLLY

Posted by samatwitch on December 8, 2011

I wrote this a couple of months after the death of my youngest cat, Miss Molly.  I can’t believe it’s been that long, but then Tija is 16 1/2 now and I acquired her a few months after this.  Miss Molly brought much joy into my life even though she was with us a short time.

REMEMBERING MISS MOLLY

On September 16, 1994,  I came home to my apartment after a wonderful warm, sunny day out of town, to discover two messages on my answering machine.  The voice was that of an unfamiliar woman.  In a sympathetic tone, she identified herself and told me she had my cat, it had been hit by a car and she was sorry, but it was dead.  The second message was from the same woman who told me not to worry about how late I got home, but to phone them whatever time it was.  Since my two older cats had greeted me on my arrival, I knew that it was my youngest, two and a half year old Miss Molly – my “wee little Miss Molly” as I often called her – and the tears began to flow.

She wasn’t really that small, she just appeared so.  She was actually taller than her mother Matilda, although slimmer, and bigger than my oldest cat, Samantha.  But there was something about Miss Molly that always made me think of her as “wee”.  Perhaps it was her large green eyes, which made her pointed face appear smaller, or just the fact that she was still very kittenish.  Or maybe it was because she was a gift I had never expected and I still have vivid memories of her as a newborn kitten, especially when she was ten days old and I had to feed her with an eye dropper when Matilda took off for the day.

That was the day Samantha officially met the yet-to-be named kitten.  After 16 years of being the centre of attention in our household, Samantha had not taken kindly to Matilda’s unexpected intrusion into our lives and her subsequent adoption of us.  Consequently, Samantha was noticeably wary of this small black and white wriggling object, no bigger than the length of my hand, yet one whose scent designated her “cat”.

I had had Samantha spayed at six months as I did with Miss Molly, but Matilda was already pregnant when she decided to stay with us.   Miss Molly was the only one of the four kittens to survive and I had decided to keep her.

I called Gayle, the woman who had left the message, and her husband Michael came over immediately, carrying Miss Molly, wrapped in a towel in a square rubber basin.  I stood on the top step of my apartment building, in front of a neighbour I had never met, weeping over the lifeless body of my youngest cat.  It was ten o’clock at night and I didn’t know what to do next.  Michael said my neighbours who lived in the house across the street had offered to help me in the morning with whatever arrangements I wished to make.  He pushed back the towel from Miss Molly’s face, but advised me not to turn her over as the other side of her head and her eye were damaged quite badly.  I thanked him and took her inside.

When I entered the apartment, the other two cats immediately sensed something was wrong.  I put the basin on the floor and let them look at her.  Matilda, who had seen one of her kittens die and the other two disappear (they had to be put to sleep), took one look and sniff and jumped back from the container.  But Samantha kept bending closer, finally reaching out a paw as if to move the too-still body of her young companion.  After all, Miss Molly was hardly ever totally still.  She had a seemingly endless supply of energy, always on the go.  My most often-used expression with regards to her was, “Where did Miss Molly go now?”  Although very affectionate, she did not really liked to be picked up and cuddled, usually squirming free in 30 seconds or less.  However, twice in what turned out to be the last week of her life she had actually jumped up on my legs, while I was reclining on the sofa with Samantha on my shoulder, and stretched out for a long nap.

I phoned long distance to one of my closest friends .  As soon as she heard my voice, she asked what was wrong and was it Samantha?  With Samantha being 19, her death would not have been unexpected.  I explained that it was Miss Molly and my friend sympathized with me over the phone, letting me talk and cry.

After a long night, in which I spent a lot of time just stroking Miss Molly’s face and paw, I realized that her body was now stiff and the essence that had made her my “wee little Miss Molly” had really left.  I held her on my lap in the basin and called the other two to come near.  Samantha sat on the arm of the chair beside me, Matilda on the floor – close, but with her back to us.  I sang – or tried to – a couple of my favourite hymns and said a prayer of thankfulness for the unexpected joy and love Miss Molly had brought to all of us during her young life.  Just as I finished, Theresa phoned from across the street to ask me if I was ready to make a decision about what to do with the body.  She and Maureen drove me to the SPCA where, for $15, they cremated the body.

The next day Theresa and Maureen came over with flowers and a beautiful card to make sure I was okay.  They explained how Michael had found Miss Molly in the middle of the road in front of their house, while walking his dog and, ignoring the blood, picked her up and took her home.  He and his wife, Gayle, had called Theresa and Maureen (who are nurses) to see if they could help, but Maureen assured me that Miss Molly must have died instantly and, thanks to Michael, she was not run over afterwards.  Gayle had stroked Miss Molly into a more natural position and wrapped her in the towel.   I shall always be grateful for having such caring neighbours who made such a difficult and painful situation a little bit easier.

I had three days to grieve before I returned to work, but even there it was made more bearable because of the caring and support shown and expressed by almost every one I work with.  Most have cats of their own or had at one time, and most of them have gone through similar experiences.  And most of them had heard of Miss Molly, while quite a few had seen pictures of her.  Nobody laughed at me for caring so much about a cat or belittled the grief and loss I felt.  I truly feel blessed to have been so fortunate as to have friends, family (my sister and her family in the Kootenays sent me hugs over the phone), neighbours, and co-workers who empathized with me and, for those who knew her, grieved with me.

The pain is not so constant now and I look at the many pictures I have of her.  (She was not only photogenic but seemed to love having her picture taken.)  I think about her high-pitched, and sometimes quite demanding, meow – which sounded much like the woman’s cry in the opening sequence of “Mystery”.  I think about how she tried to effect a fierce growl when she didn’t want anyone near her when she had brought home a mouse, or worse, a bird, but the noise she made was so un-fierce that I was always hard-pressed not to laugh even when I was scolding her.  I think of how I tried to stop her crossing the road but, short of locking her in the apartment all the time, which I was not willing to do, I had to live with the knowledge that she liked to cross not just one, but two busy streets to find a quiet yard where she could relax and run around without fear of being chased herself.  I think of how she would follow me as far as the alley, across the street and half a block from home, when I was on my way to work, and cry so piteously (or so it sounded) that I could hear her over a block away.

I remember how she liked to snuggle under the covers with me, or lie on my arm at night.  I remember the time I woke up and found a small pink nose pressed against mine and two big green eyes staring at me, while a small paw gently batted my face to wake me up.  I remember how she would jump up onto the bathroom counter as soon as I started to brush my teeth and try to get her head between my arm and my face.  There are still tears when I think of Miss Molly and her shortened life, but there are smiles when I remember the joy with which she lived, and I do not, for one moment, regret loving her.

Posted in Personal, Writing - Non-fiction | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

SEARCHING FOR THE ROOTS OF THE “HEART”

Posted by samatwitch on December 7, 2011

This is actually an academic paper that I wrote for a third-year English class when I went back to finish my degree a few years ago.  I got 90% on the paper and my professor said the missing 10% was because I had left out a step!  I didn’t include the bibliography/references.

“Words are flashlights upon our thoughts.”  So says Joseph T. Shipley in his introduction to The Origins of English Words.  If this is so, perhaps we can illuminate some of the thoughts of our ancestors by studying the history of our modern words and their meanings, past and present.  Take a word like heart, for instance.  We are aware of some of the associated words, which have “heart” as the root, and most people know the connection with the Greek word for heart, kard-ia, but there are other words which are not so recognizable as being related.  Some of these are from the Latin root cor, or cordis and are less easy to identify as being from the same family.

All of these words come from the Indo-European root *ker-dhe.  Latin and Greek kept the initial voiceless stop,│ k│, while Germanic languages moved the voiceless stop to a voiceless fricative, thus │ h│.  The IE aspirated voiceless stop ‘dh’ became a voiced stop│ d│ for all these languages, but Germanic went one step further, changing the voiced stop│ d│ to a voiceless stop│ t│.  These Germanic changes are part of what is known as Grimm’s Law.

The word heart itself has undergone numerous changes in spelling, not just from the Indo-European to Latin to West Germanic to English, but from Old English to Modern English.  From the eleventh to thirteenth century, the word was usually spelled heorte, as it appears in Lamb’s Homer in 1175: “we sulen habben ure heorte and habben godne ileafe to ure drighten.”  The spelling changed to herte sometime in the thirteenth century, appearing also as harte from the fourteenth century to the sixteenth.  The latter was probably a result of the early modern English sound change from ‘e + r + 1 consonant’ to a sound, and sometimes spelling, change to ‘a + r + 1 consonant’. From the fourteenth to seventeenth century, the word was also spelled without the final “e”, which was, by this time period, silent; but from the sixteenth century onwards, the word can be found in the form we use now, heart.  As late as the seventeenth century, however, the word appeared in Scotland spelled hairt.

Heart has many meanings today, including a reference to a “heart” shape or referring to the physical organ, but the most common uses of the word still seem to revolve around feeling and emotion.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives this as one of the archaic or even obsolete definitions:  “Considered as the centre of vital functions: the seat of life, the vital part or principle; hence in some phrases = life”.
Perhaps our modern generation would find that to be out-dated, but the standard definitions are very similar:
1.    As the seat of feeling, understanding and thought.
2.    The seat of one’s inmost thoughts and secret feelings; one’s inmost being, the depths of the soul; the soul; the spirit.
3.    The seat of emotions generally; the emotional nature, as distinguished from the intellectual nature placed in the head.
4.    More particularly, the seat of love or affection.
5.    The seat of courage; hence, courage, spirit.
6.    The source of ardour, enthusiasm or energy.
7.    The moral sense, conscience.
8.    The innermost or central part of anything; the centre, middle.
Oxford English Dictionary, 1989

This last definition is particularly interesting, as it seems to relate to our word core, meaning essentially the same thing – the centre, middle, or innermost part.  It is suggested in one etymological dictionary that it probably comes from the same Latin cor.  This seems to be substantiated by the fact that several other Indo-European languages have cognates with this Latin word, which indicate a connection between their words for “middle” and “heart”.  In some cases, the word is the same, while in others, the two words thus defined are very similar.

We may not equate the heart with life, but we certainly seem to imbue it with everything that makes life worth living; our emotions, spirits, even our souls.  Perhaps that is why we adopted the Greek cognate kard-  to describe the biological and medical object that is our physical heart.  Thus we have cardiology, “pertaining to the heart, anatomically, physiologically, or pathologically” (OED, 1989), and its family of derivatives, cardiac (arrest); electrocardiogram, etc.  Another definition of cardiac is “pertaining to or affected with disease of the heart” (OED, 1989).  Contrast this with the above definitions and notice the heart is always referred to in positive statements.

Certainly, some of the compound words we have made using heart are negative, such as heartache or heartbroken, but the meaning of the root remains the same.  That especially holds true in the case of words such as hearty or heartily.  Both these words denote strength and kindly feelings in large doses.  The exception to this is dishearten, which includes the Latin prefix dis-, meaning negation, separation, apart or away from.  Whereas hearty and heartily are ways of expressing what is in one’s heart, dishearten denotes something that is done to one, depriving of “heart”, making despondent, as illustrated by this quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V: “No man should possesse him with any appearance of feare, lest hee, by shewing it, should dishearten his Army”.

Although we use the Germanic root, heart, for countless compound words or phrases to explain our feelings, and the Greek root for the biological descriptions, we use the Latin cognate, cor, as the basis for many other words which describe both feelings and manner, as well as the state between two or more people or things.

Our word cordate, meaning “heart-shaped”, comes from the Latin word cordātus, meaning wise or prudent.  A word that is in much more common use, however, is cordial, meaning “of or belonging to the heart; of the heart as the seat of feeling, affection, etc.; warm and friendly in manner” (OED, 1989).  This word is often used as a synonym for hearty, and comes from cordate plus the suffix -ial.  Like heartily, cordially can also be used in a negative sense, thus “I dislike him cordially (or heartily)” meaning with strong emotion.  The word cordial, used as a noun, refers to a sweet beverage, often with some alcoholic content, but it is a beverage which “invigorates the heart and stimulates the circulation” (OED, 1989).
Another, less often used word, is misericordia, which sounds like it should denote negative feelings, but actually means to have compassion or mercy, coming from the Latin miser (wretched) and cor (heart).

Many of the words based on the Latin cor, like misericordia, actually come to us via the French, rather than directly from Latin.  Such a word is courage.  Coming over from central France in the 14th century with the second wave of French influence on the English language, the word was then more frequently spelled corage in both France and England.  Our most common modern meaning for courage is “That quality of mind which shows itself in facing danger without fear or shrinking; bravery, boldness, valour” (OED, 1989).  But when we look back further, we find a now-obsolete meaning which links the relationship to its Latin root: “The heart as the seat of feeling, thought, etc.; spirit, mind, disposition, nature” (OED, 1989).  Compare that to definition #2 above, and one can see that at some point in our past, the words heart and courage must have been almost interchangeable.  Now we seem to have separated these words into two different meanings but, looking at definition #5, we still see courage as coming from the heart.

In the fifteenth century, the French gave us two other words connected with courage, which we have brought into common usage.  These are encourage and discourage.  Again, though they came into English from France, both the root and the prefixes are from Latin.  En- means ‘at or near’ and therefore the literal meaning of the word is to bring courage to someone else;  “to inspire with courage, animate, inspirit” (OED, 1989).  We use it in a much looser sense today, bringing hope or even renewed energy to another.

Discourage, of course, means the opposite: “To deprive of courage, confidence or moral energy; to lessen the courage of; to dishearten, dispirit…” (OED, 1989).  It is interesting to note that, although heart and courage no longer are synonyms, dishearten and discourage still are.

To me, the most fascinating group of words to come into the English language from the Latin cor or cordis also came via the French, starting to appear in Middle English in the 13th century.  These words – accord, concord, discord, record, and chord – have more in common than their spelling and their common origins.

The first three words are easily seen to be related.  Indeed, accord and concord can be used as synonyms, although accord is in more common usage.  In Old French and early Modern English, accord was spelled with only one “c”, but by the fifteenth century the spelling became consistent with the Latin accordā-re.  The ac- prefix was the same as an ad- prefix, meaning “to”, giving rise to the literal meaning of accord as bringing heart to heart, thus reconciling oneself or others, or agreeing.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives several meanings, among them “reconciliation, agreement, harmony, concurrence of opinion, will or action, consent” (OED, 1989).  The definition for concord is very similar: “Agreement between persons; concurrence in feeling or opinion; harmony, accord” (OED, 1989).  The prefix con-, meaning with, thus leads to the literal meaning of ‘hearts agreeing’.  Concord gives rise to a further word, concordance, for which one meaning is “The fact of agreeing or being concordant; agreement or harmony” (OED, 1989).  It follows, then that discord is the lack of agreement or harmony, specifically between persons.

The verb record takes a bit more thought to see why it belongs with this family. The prefix re-, meaning back, added to cord, gives us ‘bringing back to mind or heart’, i.e. to remember, or to learn by heart.  Record as a noun, however, is an English word which the French have taken back as a loan word! (Klein, 1967).

There does not seem to be a clear consensus with regard to the etymology of the word chord.  Klein states that it is an abbreviation of accord, the difference in spelling a result of confusion with the word chord which means the ‘string of an instrument’.  Partridge, on the other hand, does not really offer an opinion about where it comes from.

However, the Oxford English Dictionary offers these two current meanings:
1.    A combination of two “according” or harmonious notes sounded together, a concord.
2.    A combination, concordant or discordant, of 3 or more simultaneous notes according to the rules of harmony; rarely of two notes only.
(OED, 1989)
From this definition, it is hard to believe the words are not related, since every word in the group is defined in some way by using the word ‘harmony’.

More evidence for this etymology can be found in the obsolete definitions of this group of words.  Accord once meant “to compose, sing or play (something) in harmony…”, and  record  “to sing of or about (something); to render in song”.  Musically, concord still can be defined as “[a] combination of notes which is in itself satisfactory to the ear, requiring no resolution or following chord”, while discord, as one would expect, means the opposite: “Disagreement or want of harmony between 2 or more musical notes sounded together; dissonance”.  And an obsolete meaning of chord was “Agreement of musical sounds” (OED, 1989).

In the late seventeenth century, William Cowper, in “The Task”, wrote “…Some chord in unison with what we hear Is touch’d within us, and the heart replies”.  Towards the middle of the eighteenth century, on the other side of the ocean, Edgar Allan Poe expressed similar thoughts: “There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which can not be touched without emotion” (The Masque of the Red Death).

In the late 1800’s, Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan, in the anguish of dealing with his brother’s death, put music to words written by Adelaide Anne Procter.  The beautiful song which resulted, “The Lost Chord”, epitomizes music, both words and notes, which comes from the heart.  Proctor refers to the chord as “[seeming to be] the harmonious echo From our discordant life”, which “came from the soul of the organ, And enter’d into mine”.

Although the Oxford English Dictionary does not mention music directly with regards to heart, a definition which includes “the depths of the soul” seems to indicate a connection.  Where else would the world’s greatest music come from, if not the composer’s heart?

 

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POEM: THOUGHTS

Posted by samatwitch on December 3, 2011

THOUGHTS

Softly my thoughts drift around me,
Riding the thermals of my mind.
First one soars into view,
My mind’s eye following it out of sight
Until distracted by a new thought.
Sometimes several cluster nearby,
Seeming to struggle for attention.
My mind jumps from one to another,
Never staying long enough to catch a firm hold,
Reaching out for one and finding nothing but air.
Finally I find one within my grasp.
I hold on tight,
Slowly examining it from every angle
Until I know it inside out.
Then I let it go,
To drift away until another day.

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POEM: DRAGONFLY

Posted by samatwitch on December 1, 2011

DRAGONFLY

Dragonfly darting in the summer dusk,
Flashes of brilliant blue.
A miniature helicopter
Gone wild and out of control.
Zooming and diving over the heads of my cats,
Swooping towards them to tease,
Then soaring high out of reach and sight,
Luminescent wings beating madly.

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