Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reflections”

Word Nerd: People

Terms of endearment, character labels, designations of gathering are all part of this month’s offering.

avuncular: acting like an uncle, as in being kind, patient, generous, etc., especially to younger people. Is there an auntie version? avauntcular?

macushla: darling

this would have been handy back in February

bibliophile: a bookseller, especially a dealer in rare or used books.

vicinage: a particular neighborhood or district, or the people belonging to it.

nebbish: a pitifully ineffectual, luckless, and timid person.

kith: acquaintances, friends, neighbors, or the like; persons living in the same general locality and forming a more or less cohesive group.

contumacious: stubbornly perverse or rebellious; willfully and obstinately disobedient.

Questions to ponder:

Is is possible to be a nebbish kith?

Have you known a contumacious bibliophile?

Are there any avuncular folk in your speed dial?

Reader Round Up: April

Oh, April–your fickle weather kept me indoors reading instead of being outside weeding. Not necessarily a complaint. Here are the five star reads of the month that kickstarts the beginnings of spring.

Going down the same path of mitigating various dramas in Mitford, this seventh installment touches on a topic not usually addressed: depression among clerics. Father Tim has blown his diabetic diet once again, and this time there are dire consequences.
As always, Karon provides humor in serious situations along with valuable life lessons.

Well-written, and though aimed at middle readers, Grisham presents a plausible story that veers towards drubbing those kids who stray from the straight and narrow. He does bring home the importance of how one wrong choice can have huge consequences. Seventh and perhaps the best in the series, Grisham takes on the bail bond system when one of Theo’s fellow Scouts and classmates becomes inadvertently an accomplice to armed robbery. Basically, Grisham wants his readers to know how flawed the legal system can be at times. The storyline includes the inevitable animal court where Theodore shines as a burgeoning lawyer. The case this time is a flatulent bunny who terrorizes the neighborhood canines.

With a nod to Agatha Christie and more than a couple of winks to the murder mystery industry, Horowitz provides a clever meta fiction that features his ability at creating an engaging storyline.
A plot about a murder mystery that is the core to a story about an actual murder is clever meta fiction indeed.

While it seems as if readers are reading an homage to Agatha Christie they are in truth reading about how a book editor has become a detective trying to solve the murder of the murder mystery writer. Lots of winking going on here.

Horowitz brazenly nods to several mystery writers and even trots out Agatha Christie’s grandson for extra measure. If it weren’t all so obvious it would be irritating to have a murder mystery interrupted at the denouement to become a murder mystery.

Horowitz was obviously having fun.

So much fun that he shamelessly promotes his Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War series. He even takes the time to insert a mild diatribe how real murders aren’t as common or convoluted as novels present them to be.

A reluctant five because it is difficult to ignore that Horowitz is a talented and clever writer and has produced an engaging whodunnit, despite all the winking and nodding going on.
For those who enjoyed Knives Out.

A four plus star

While many readers have expressed negative views of Thomas‘s Sherlock Holmes pastiche, a deeper appreciation of the cavalcade of historical detail can be summoned. Thomas captures the voice of Watson well, Sherlock somewhat. Of the five stories “Peter the Painter” provides as much action and intrigue as “The Hound of Baskerville.”

Read any good books lately? Do tell. Do share.

For all the other books read and reviewed be sure to check out my Good Reads reading challenge.

Bard Bits: Belated Birthday

I was fully aware of Shakespeare’s birthday last Saturday. In fact, I duly noted the event by checking out the Globe Theater’s production of Julius Caesar.

2015 version at the New Globe

I also noted that the library has added to its collection a variety of Shakespeare productions. A present of presentations.

In May my sophomore students will begin their unit in studying Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. My teaching approach is to include a bit of historical background in order for them to understand why:

a)Shakespeare wrote the play (Queen Elizabeth I had no named heir and the kingdom could be thrown into chaos)
b)the main character dies in the third act (is Caesar the main character?)

Prior to the Globe’s 2015 production the only available version was Charlton Heston’s epic film where Jason Robards plays an overly stoic Brutus. Even I dreaded the Julius Caesar unit having to show this verson

Then along came the Globe’s filmed HD production. Whew! Students were able to experience watching the play as a live audience watched the play. Seeing the audience participation absolutely helps students in better understanding Shakespeare’s lines. Until the Globe’s production, it was difficult for students to understand that the tragedy of Julius Caesar was imbued with humor. My students realized that they could laugh even though tragedy was prevalent and Shakespeare intended his audience to laugh to break the tension. He knew how to sell tickets. His plays have plenty of the mainstays found in Elizabethan life: life/death, love/hate, food/sexual repartee and humor in the face of the tragic.

The Globe’s version has the traditional opening of Marcellus and Flavius chastising the plebeians for celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumph and the actors play up the punnery and rivalry between the classes quite well by interacting with the audience. Billy Bard would no doubt be pleased.

From the lively opening the play revolves around the conspiracy towards Caesar. And this Caesar has a bit of acerbic wit. He knows how to lance his speech with tone when presenting his lines.

This Caesar knows how to roll out the wit when needed

The usually dour Brutus even gets a laugh when reading the fake news that Cassius slips into his windowsill.

Nothing breaks the tension like a clog tapping poet when Cassius and Brutus are at odds while camped at Sardis.

What’s really noteworthy about this production is that the actors were Elizabethan garb under their togas. This provides more authenticity as they are dressed more in the style found in Shakespeare’s day.

Bromance squabbles are awkward

Overall, a thumbs up production.

Happy belated birthday, Shakespeare.

Book Birthday Two

Two Years Today!

Two years ago on April 7th, Someday We Will debuted ready to greet the world with its message of the joy that comes with anticipating a visit with those we love, especially visits with grandparents.

Two years ago was also the start of the pandemic. Schools, businesses, transportation, borders, so much shut down as the world learned how to cope with Covid.

Not the most advantageous time to promote a debut picture book. Ironically enough (although one librarian deemed it prescient) the book’s focus is on the joy of coming together after being separated.

Covid was not on my mind when I submitted the book for publication to Beaming Books two years earlier.My thoughts were on the joy experienced whenever I visit my granddaughter.

Separation has taken on deeper meaning with Covid. There is more involved, more considerations when planning a visit. “Someday we will…”and “Someday is here!” has more personal meaning these days.

With libraries and bookstores open once again to in-person events, I look forward to making the rounds and promoting Someday We Will.

In these past two years have you had your someday turn into today? I hope so! That moment of being reunited with a loved one is not just for grandparents and grandchildren.

In the meantime I’ve been busy writing and submitting other stories and look forward to sharing more book birthdays with you.

Looking to order the book?

Looking for reviews? Goodreads

Word Nerd: Places

Oh, the places you’ll go or at least get to know with this batch of terms.

firth: a long, narrow indentation of the seacoast.

wynd: a narrow street or alley.

Wind your way down a wynd

peregrinate: to walk or travel by foot; journey.

saltigrade: move by leaping.

Nothing like saltigrade by the sea

natant: swimming.

wampish: to wave about or flop to and fro.

estivate: to spend the summer, as at a specific place or in a certain activity.

Natant, wampish, estivate: water wonderful words

Bard Bits: Shakespeare Is For Everyone? (That is the question…)

As an AP English teacher, Shakespeare is naturally part of the curriculum and it’s expected my students adore the Avon man as much as I do. Not usually the case. As for my regular sophomores? The groans when we approach Julius Caesar can discouraging. Yet, it is often in how Shakespeare is taught that makes a difference. This is a separate topic. The main topic is the assumption that Shakespeare is for everyone and they are going to like it. That’s like saying exercising is for everyone. It should be, but face it, not everyone embraces a push-up or a run around the block. Some like the idea of exercising and others have tried it, and many let others revel in it. So it goes with Shakespeare.

AUSTIN TICHENOR is the creator of The Shakespereance; co-artistic director of the Reduced Shakespeare Company. He contributed a thought-provoking article about Shakespeare. Here is the gist of his rhetorical stance:

Is Shakespeare for everyone? Of course he is! Absolutely!

I just wish people would stop saying it.

In Shakespeare’s day, his plays — and plays by others, and theater generally — really were for everyone. All levels of society congregated to see and hear plays in performance, to share gossip and news, and to rub literal and metaphorical elbows. Not just a source for entertainment, Shakespeare’s theater was the internet of its day.

But beginning in the 19th century, theater (and opera and symphonies) became co-opted by the upper class who wanted to keep socially — often meaning ethnically and economically — “unacceptable” people out of the theater, turning what was originally popular culture into “high” culture and using the arts as a tool of status and exclusion.

Worse, as a by-product of imperialism, Shakespeare was imposed on non-English speakers in different countries, held up as the best playwright in the world with the understanding that only by learning his plays and accepting his greatness — and, by extension, the greatness of the English language and Anglo-European culture — could one become truly civilized.

So I get it: “Shakespeare is for everyone” is an important correction, a reminder that Shakespeare’s plays were written to be popular entertainments, designed to appeal to everyone from the groundlings to the nobility.

But I worry that “Shakespeare is for everyone” nowadays feels less like a promise and more like a threat; the implication being that if you don’t like him, there’s something wrong with you..

Because the truth is, Shakespeare isn’t for everyone, and it’s disingenuous to suggest that it is. Nothing is for everyone: Personally, I don’t like opera, baseball, or video games, and in London at the turn of the 17th century, there were tens of thousands of people who undoubtedly preferred to skip another one of Shakespeare’s epics and head to the bear-baiting pits instead.

So what’s the alternative? I prefer saying “Shakespeare is for anyone who wants him.” For many reasons (i.e., the comedies aren’t funny, the language is incomprehensible, the kings and their nobles are confusing, the references archaic), Shakespeare is demonstrably not for everyone. And that’s okay. But I’ll argue till my dying day that he can and should be made available to anyone who wants him, with many different entry points for people of all levels and interests, whether they be live productions, fascinating lectures, compelling museum exhibitions, excellent films and videos, or even, dare I suggest, pop-up books. One of the first steps in appreciating Shakespeare, it seems to me, is being honest about his output, for we can only truly appreciate his greatness by being discerning enough to recognize the parts that don’t measure up, and understanding that no matter what we do, he still won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

How Cliché: the “C” list continues

Carry Coals to Newcastle: to do something unnecessarily. The expression stems from Newcastle-upon-Tyne located in northeastern English. Henry III granted Newcastle a charter to mine coal. Becoming a major coal center, they would not be in need of coal as it would be unnecessary. Similar sayings are found in other countries, such as in French it is said to “carry water to a river.”


Cold Comfort: of little consolation. Although it is not known the origination of the expression, Shakespeare liked it enough to insert in a few of his plays such as The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart: just because someone seems unresponsive, that does not men they can’t express emotions. It’s thought Vincent Lean contributed the saying in a 1902 collection of sayings. Another interpretation is a person can be both rational and compassionate.


To Pour Cold Water On: to discourage enthusiasm or pleasure. This saying dates back to Roman times from Plautus who said “They pour cold water on us.” Cold water can definitely dampen an otherwise good time.

Come Off It: be realistic, no fooling around. This American slang term comes from the 1900s and stem from the action of coming down from a higher place, such as dismounting from a horse, with the idea of being on the same level as the other person standing on the ground.

Cool As A Cucumber: composed, not rattled. It’s true: cucumbers are cool. It’s believed the inside of a cucumber is 20 degrees cooler than the outside air. Since this expression can be dated to 1732 writer John Gay, who wrote “I…cool as cucumber could see the rest of womankind,” one wonders how they figured, or even decided, to see if a cucumber was really all that cool.

Crazy As A Loon: unconventional behavior noted. There are different thoughts on this saying. Granted, the cry of a loon is quite unnerving. There is also the idea that the behavior of a loon is considered unconventional when flocks of loons seemingly fly erratically at each other over a frozen pond. This gives way to the expression of being “loony,” but in fact this loony refers to “lunar” or the phases of the moon. And we all know how a full moon can influence behavior.

Cry One’s Eyes Out: weep in extremity. Although it is not possible to actually cry until one’s eyes fall out, it may seem so in the throes of an emotionally draining situation. In a 1705 play, The Careless Husband, a line stated, “I could cry my eyes out.” The saying is sometimes referred to as “Crying one’s heart out.”


To Curry Favor: attempting to extract a means of getting ahead. In the sixteenth-century there was a satirical romance involving a horse named Fauvel who represented cunning. To groom or curry the horse indicated someone was hoping to enlist its use. Fauvel became “favel” and eventually became “favor” over time.

Cute As A Button: appealing in appearance. “Cute” is derived from the 17th century “acute” which meant, shrewd, ingenious, and even clever. Somehow, the word transferred to meaning “attractive in a dainty manner” perhaps being associated with buttons which are small and for the most part, attractive.


Stay tuned as the “D” section is set for next time another batch of clichés are explored.

Word Nerd: Nouns of Distinction

As I remind my students, a noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Here is a list of distinctive nouns.

haphephobia: an extreme fear or dislike of touching or being touched.

skerrick: a small piece or quantity; a bit.

tohubohu: chaos; disorder; confusion.

hugger-mugger: secrecy; reticence.

chiaroscuro: the treatment of light and shade in drawing and painting.

manavelins: miscellaneous scraps or small items, especially of food or gear.

exonumia: items, as tokens or medals, that resemble money but are not intended to circulate as money.

sumpsimus: adherence to or persistence in using a strictly correct term, holding to a precise practice, etc., as a rejection of an erroneous but more common form.

hydra: a persistent or many-sided problem that presents new obstacles as soon as one aspect is solved.

propinquity: nearness in place; proximity.

vibrissa: one of the stiff, bristly hairs growing about the mouth of certain animals, as a whisker of a cat.

concatenation: a series of interconnected or interdependent things or events.

foible: a minor weakness or failing of character; slight flaw or defect.

darg: a day’s work. Interesting that darg and darg share the same letters.

lustrum: a period of five years.

I need to find a way to wendle my appreciation for these fantabulous nouns in my sentences. It might become a foible in my darg to do so, give or take a lustrum.

And the bonus noun:

Do fribblers dribble away time and energy?

Bard Bits: Elizabethan History 101

To understand Shakespeare means it’s important to understand the historical period. Shakespeare wrote his plays knowing well the historical and cultural temperature of the day. He understood that the English people knew their history and traced it through the monarchy. Shakespeare’s plays included in his repertoire what are known as the Historicals: the Henrys, the Richards, along with Julius Caesar, King Lear, and company. Shakespeare based his plays on the history known, but of course, being a writer, he no doubt embellished the history–he had to sell tickets, after all. Funny thing, often what he wrote became better known than actual history. Take Julius Caesar, for instance. The famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” is a Shakespeare addition. No one actually knows what Caesar said when he was being stabbed by the toga team, but he sold tickets with that line and still does today.

Shakespeare knew his kingly characters had already made history, plus they were trapped by it. He couldn’t change their deeds too much. The Elizabethans were aware of their past and Shakespeare’s history plays helped them understand where they came from and where they were headed. All the pageantry was both entertainment and a lesson.

That’s what makes Shakespeare last through the years. Teachers tend to have a lasting impression.

Word Nerd: Miscellany

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The word bank is beginning to burst forth once again with the many marvelous lexiconical delights gathered. Time to set a few free to frolic unfettered and perhaps adopted by word discerners, like you.

yakka: work, especially hard work. Teaching these days is yakka, yakka, yakka.

gnomon: the raised part of a sundial that casts the shadow. It’s nice knowing about the gnomon.

ataraxia: a state of freedom from emotional disturbance and anxiety; tranquility. The last couple of years of covid controversy leads to the need of some ataraxia.

whigmaleerie: a whimsical or fanciful ornament or contrivance; gimmick. Is a whirligig kin to a whigmaleerie?

skookum: large; powerful; impressive. A snookum could be a skookum.

tchotchke: an inexpensive souvenir, trinket. Perhaps a whigmaleerie can be a tchotchke.

wintle: to tumble over; capsize. I would appreciate an Austen heroine to wintle in an appropriate moment.

mussitation: silent movement of the lips in simulation of the movements made in audible speech. It’s more than just talking to one’s self.

armscye: the armhole opening in a garment through which the hand, and then the arm, passes, and to which a sleeve may be attached. So that’s what’s it’s called.

zugzwang: in chess, a situation in which a player is limited to moves that cost pieces or have a damaging positional effect. Does checkers possess such a term?

Definitely an eclectic assortment that deserve finding their way into your personal dictionary. Which words will you wangle into your next conversation?

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