February 28, 2020

Words of the Month - The Odd Origins of Children

        You’d think that words for children, such as girl, boy, and babe, would be among our most basic words, and therefore with straightforward etymologies all the way back to Old English.  So it is with father, mother, sister and brother.  But for some reason words for children seem to be a little unruly.
        girl is of unknown origin, first appearing around 1300 (the middle of Middle English) and first could mean children of either sex, although more often female.  One theory relates it to a g-r root used for all sorts of young, immature, or worthless creatures, and says the final -l is a diminutive.  Another theory is that it derives from an Old English word for “garment,” presumably because children were wrapped in it.  The bottom line, though, is that we don’t really know.

        boy arrived in Middle English perhaps half a century earlier, and first meant “servant,” and then, in the way of classist society, “rascal, urchin.”  All across Europe there are words that mean both “male child” and “servant,” such as French garçon.  In English it was not until around 1400 that boy began to mean “male child.”

        lad, also from around 1300, was a first a “foot soldier” or “young male servant,” although where it came from is obscure.  Theories include “one who is led,” or a Norse word for woolen stockings.  The meaning of “boy or young man” is from the mid-fifteenth century.

        lass entered English with the meaning “girl, young woman,” but its origin is just as murky as the others.  Is it from Old Swedish for “unmarried”?  Old Norse for “idle, weak”?  West Frisian for “light, thin”?  Old Danish for “rag”?  Although not apparently related to lad etymologically, lads and lasses have been paired in English since the early fifteenth century.

        brat - In case you’ve been wondering about the hypotheses of various words for children deriving from “garment,” “stockings,” and “rag,” the model seems to be here.  This slang word for “beggar’s child” derives (c. 1500) from a dialect word for a ragged garment, related to the Old English bratt meaning “cloak”.

        babe dates to the late fourteenth century and is probably derived from the sounds of a baby babbling (as is the word babble itself).  This is akin to mama, papa, dada, and other first baby words.  Baby is a diminutive form which is now more standard.

        kid - You probably know that this was originally a young goat.  It was first used as slang for human children in the 1590s, and was relatively standard (although informal) by the 1840s.  This one may illustrate most clearly what is probably going on with all those other obscurely-derived words for children.  That is, people tend to call children by teasing or joking nicknames, sometimes affectionate, sometimes disparaging (sometimes both at the same time).  A common enough slang word eventually tends to become standard, especially as the children who learn these words grow up and retain them into adult speech.

        In case you’re wondering what people called their children before the arrival of all these words in Middle English, the words that derive from Old English roots are bairn, now only in northern English and Scottish dialects, and child.  But while child may have a straightforward etymology, it has an unruly plural.  Originally the plural was the same as the singular, but around 975 a plural form with an -r ending developed.  Then during the Middle English period the standard Germanic -en plural was added, but the -r- was kept, so children actually has a double plural, like saying “childses”.
        This just goes to show that children don’t always follow the grown-ups’ rules!

[Picture: Catch Me!, rubber block print by AEGN, 2007 (sold out).]

February 25, 2020

Leafless Trees

        I wanted to share these two linoleum block prints by Anita Laurence (Australia) before we enter spring.  I did a post in the past with her images of cities, which are delightfully busy.  These leafless trees are very different.  In terms of actual carving, these are also very busy: the branches and their shadows fill the space with detail and everything is full of interesting textures.  By contrast, however, the over-all impression is of space.  There are hills in the backgrounds, but the foreground is flat and stark, and the skies are large even though they don’t really fill much of the paper.  Clearly with such strong shadows, the sun is bright, but perhaps it’s the buff paper and heavy cloud cover at the horizon that make it feel hazy.
        These landscapes are from the western part of Victoria, which is one of the areas that’s been badly affected by fires this year.  This is not the first time there have been
fires, of course, and Laurence has apparently done some artwork (photography) relating to brushfires in the past, but I don’t know what the current status of these areas is, or whether Laurence is currently dealing with it in new work.
        In any case, these are beautiful, and I love the use of texture and light and shadow.  They do a lovely job at one of art’s important functions: to draw attention to the unique beauty of individual locations, and to share that attention universally.

[Pictures: Winter I, linocut by Anita Laurence,
c 2012;
Typo Station, linocut by Laurence
(Images from AnitaLaurence.com).]

February 21, 2020

Folktales for Dark Times

        One thing that it seems everyone in the world has in common these days - and yes, I like to look for things we have in common, no matter how divided we are — is that we’re all scared, and stressed out, and worried about the future.  The irony, of course, is that it’s the things some of us do to try to avert crisis that are causing what others of us see as crisis, to which they react with actions that cause even deeper crisis to those with the first perspective, and so on…  So how can we break out of this vicious fear cycle?  Well, it isn’t easy and it will take a lot of work from a lot of different directions, but one thing that can help is sharing stories.  Why?  Because stories give us hope, inspire us to be brave and persistent, spark our problem-solving creativity, and provide a little stress-reducing humor.  Not just any stories will do, though.  Stories have power, and stories about how We will crush Them are definitely not helpful.  So here, to the rescue, is folktale expert and storyteller Csenge Virág Zalka with a Storytelling Global Crisis starter kit.
        Go straight to Zalka’s blog The Multicolored Diary and check out her list of folktales for dark times: Don’t Stop Believing.  Read some for your own mental and emotional health, and then share some, because sharing multiplies the benefit.  (Actually, not all of the links go to readable stories.  Some just link to citations of books that may not be readily available.  Still, a number of them can be read on-line.)  Recurring themes are the need to keep doing the small tasks for as long as it takes without giving up, and the need to work together to solve problems and overcome threats.  So hang in there, and don’t stop telling the stories that inspire you to hope and action.

[Picture: Story Time, rubber block print by AEGN, 2003 (sold out).]

February 17, 2020


        This is just a quick shout-out to two artists I met at Boskone 57 this weekend, who gave me lovely little pieces of their art.  I read excerpts from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination at the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading session, and afterwards received these treasures.  What a delightful surprise!
        First, a herd of umbrellaphants floating down, using their umbels to slow their descent.  It’s especially fun to see this view, since my own illustration of an umbrellaphant is just standing there.  This was done by Leafia S.C. with warmth and charm.
        Second, a sampling of calligraphy pieces by the Driveby Calligrapher.  As it says on her business card, “I write down things other people have written, but fancier.”  And what makes both these artists’ work even more fun is that they were done on the spot as we were reading our short pieces, and presented to me afterwards.
        So I’m sending out a big Thank You to these two talented and generous artists.  Your work spreads joy, and that’s Vitally Important!

[Pictures: Umbrellaphants by Leafia S.C., 2020;
Calligraphy by The Driveby Calligrapher, 2020 (Visit her Twitter @dbcalligrapher).]

February 13, 2020

A Room With a View

        I am very pleased to be one of eight artists featured this month at gallery twist in Lexington.  The show is called “A Room With A View,” because each artist gets a room — or at least, an area of the gallery/house.  My area is part of the front hallway and powder room!  (See this previous post on “Bathroom Art” — and be sure to read the comments, too, since they give another perspective.)
        One of the “twists” of this gallery is that they have a grand time staging the art in the house to give you fun things to look at and notice.  For example, you can see in the photos that there are turnips providing decor next to my piece “The Enormous Turnip,” and even peas scattered around “The Princess and the Pea.”  These touches are delightful in their own right, but also often serve to help visitors notice little details about the art, or consider a new perspective on it.
        The show will be up through March 1 so you can go see it any time until then, but I will be doing a special demo in the gallery on February 18 from 10-11am.  You’ll also get the opportunity to carve your own mini block if you wish.  I’ve just finished a design for a new block today, so I’ll have something to demonstrate, and you’ll be able to see (and try) the whole process.  So come on over to Lexington if you happen to be able to be free on a Tuesday morning, and I’ll be delighted to see you!
        But first, over the weekend I will be at the Boskone convention for the Art Show, and a reading from On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination.  That should be fun, as well, so it’s a busy month for me.  At least the demo means I’ll get a chance to keep making some art amid all the shows.  I’m not so sure about writing, but we’ll see…

[Pictures: Gallery Twist, photos by AEGN, 2020.]

February 10, 2020

A Few More Thoughts on Getting It Wrong

        The situation in which Cancel Culture is the most appropriate and potentially positive is in boycotting work that is actively promoting a hurtful agenda.  It’s least appropriate and most counterproductive when it’s in reaction to someone with good intentions.  Here are a few more thoughts on how we should handle our own mistakes made through ignorance or thoughtlessness but not malice.
        Unless you write nothing but autobiography, you will be writing about people who are other than yourself — and even in autobiography you’ll have to mention a few other characters in the background.  But of course some people are more different than others, and as you write you will inevitably get things wrong.  When this happens, apologize, and keep going, because everything you write is a rough draft for everything you’ll write after.  (I cannot take credit for this brilliant observation, but alas I cannot give credit, either, because I can’t remember who said it!)  In that spirit, therefore, I am apologizing for making the character Tij in Ruin of Ancient Powers in the stereotype of the Blind Seer.
        I start with the question of whether stereotypical Blind Seers are better or worse than having blind characters represented as being useless, or not represented at all.  I would think that various people might have different responses to that question, depending on their own experiences and pet peeves.  It’s worth pointing out that not all [x] will share the same attitudes or the same judgement of any given portrayal of [x].  It’s also worth pointing out that a fair answer to my question would be, “How about a fourth option?”
        In my defense, I think Tij bucks the Blind Seer stereotype (thus edging at least slightly toward that fourth option) in an important way: she isn’t passive.  She doesn’t give the protagonist wise advice and then stay home while he goes off to have adventures.  Sight or no sight, wisdom or no wisdom, she is a full participant in all the action.  That said, she is blind and Angduv says of her “She listens so intently she hears even what I leave unsaid.  She sees to the truth so clearly, so openly, that she has no need to see anything else.”  So, for perpetuating the stereotype of the Blind Seer and potentially irritating and frustrating blind people who are sick of blind characters being portrayed this way, I absolutely apologize.

[Picture: Amos, wood block print by Irving Amen (Image from IrvingAmen.com).]

February 6, 2020


        My most recent pieces are a little series of variations using the same block.  The block was my sample piece for at least a year.  Every time I taught a class I’d use this scrap of rubber to demonstrate how to use the carving tools.  It was a sample for the “Not a Zentangle” project with which I have students start.  The idea is just to try out a variety of different patterns to get the feel of carving.  Because I would carve only a few lines and patterns each time, this block lasted me for a long time!  But eventually I filled in the whole thing, declared it finished, and printed it, just to demonstrate printing.  I then started fooling around with the printing, combining multiples in various ways, and I decided that I rather liked it.
        Theoretically any square or rectangular block can be printed in four different spinning patterns: one with each different corner as the center point.  (You can see some square blocks printed this way here.)  My block, however, is not a proper rectangle, because it was just a scrap of rubber trimmed from something else.  It has two right-angled corners, and each of those could be used as a center point, but another corner is missing, and the last is weirdly lumpy.  I experimented with different ways to arrange the block to get rotational symmetry around those two corners that don’t really fit together.
        After staring at all my variations until I couldn’t see straight, and asking my patient family members which designs they liked best, I finally decided on three versions to print.  You’ll notice, if you look carefully, that even the two square corners are no longer the central points of their rotations.  I decided that each pinwheel should have a small space in the middle, to make them go together better.
        This is the first truly abstract art I’ll be showing.  I’m curious whether my audiences will like them at all.  I find them quite joyful!

        ANNOUNCEMENT for all those in the greater Boston area: this Sunday from 2-5pm will be the opening celebration of the eight-person show in which I’ll be featured at Gallery Twist in Lexington.

[Pictures: Variations rotating around 4 “corners,” rubber block prints by AEGN, 2019;
Pinwheel I, Pinwheel II, Pinwheel III, rubber block prints by AEGN, 2020.]