January 27, 2023

Words of the Month - So Many Frogs!

         If you ask an English speaker to define the word frog, most would presumably think immediately of the tailless amphibian of the family Ranidae.  We’ve had that word in English since at least 1000 CE, when it appears in descriptions of the Bible’s second plague of Egypt.  And in fact, although frog would seem to be a pretty simple, straightforward word with a simple, straightforward definition, the English language actually has a veritable plague of different frog words.
        I can begin with a number of phrases that clearly derive from this same, amphibious word.
frog in the throat - our current definition, a slight hoarseness, presumably because it makes you sound like you’re croaking, dates back only to about 1900.  However, frog was used of a variety of diseases of the mouth and throat all the way back to around 1650.
- (c.1600) a game obviously named for its suggestion of leaping like a frog
frog-march - (c. 1870) Our current definition of hustling someone forward with their arms pinned behind them may not seem to have much connection with our amphibian, but the word first meant crawling, and then carrying someone face-down by their four limbs, both of which look more froggish. 
frogman - (c. 1945) a scuba diver, who, with wet suit, flippers, and oxygen tank, can swim like a frog, and looks rather like one, too
Frog - This derogatory slang for a French person derives from the stereotype of frogs being a noteworthy element of French cuisine.  It appeared around 1778 when the French were siding with the Americans against Britain, and it took off during the Napoleonic Wars.  But back in the 1650s, before turning against the French, the slang was applied to Dutch people because of the marshiness of the Netherlands.

        It’s relatively easy to see the frog-connection in those words, and they are only a sampling of words clearly derived from the amphibian.  There are plenty of other animals (like frogfish and frogmouth), plants (like frog's-bit and frog spit), etc, named after frogs.  But that’s only the beginning of frog in English.

- an ornamental fastening for a coat, consisting of a spindle-shaped or knotted toggle or button that passes through a loop; plus the related definition of a loop on a belt from which a scabbard or holster may be carried.  This frog is of unknown origin, but may be derived from Portuguese froco, from Latin floccus “tuft of wool, or cord” (c. 1710)

frog - an elastic, horny organ in the middle of the sole of a horse’s foot, also of doubtful origin, but perhaps from French fourchette (c. 1610)

frog - a grooved piece of iron placed at the junction of the rails where one track crosses another, possibly derived from its resemblance to the frog of a horse’s hoof (c. 1850)

frog - the part of the bow of a stringed instrument by which the bow is held.  The etymology of this one has a plague of theories: perhaps from Latin floccus (like the toggle) because it’s where the horsehair is attached; or perhaps because the shape was thought to resemble the bottom of a horse’s foot (like the railroad switch); or perhaps from the vice used in the crafting of the bow, called a frock (though where that name came from I don’t know); or perhaps from a part of a plane used in bowmaking called a frog (again, no explanation of that one); and perhaps from German frosch meaning “frog,” which was a word for a riser block that spaces items as the frog of a bow holds the hair away from the stick…  Yeah, let’s just admit that no one has a clue.

frog - in a moldboard plow, the frame or standard to which soil-wearing parts are attached.  I can’t find any etymology or date on this definition, but I’ll throw out a wild off-the-cuff speculation that perhaps it could relate to Old High German pfluog, “plow.”

        And then what about just a few more that might be related to the amphibian…
frog - recessed area in the side of a brick.  According to the only place I found a derivation given, the word comes from the part of a traditional brick mold that released the clay.  This was called kikker in Dutch, which means frog.  English speakers translated the word when they borrowed it.  Presumably the kikker was called so in the first place because it kicks the clay out of the box with a jump.

frog - a small spiked or perforated object placed in the bottom of a vessel to hold flower stems in position in an arrangement.  This may possibly have begun as a slang term in the 1920s and 30s because they sit in water, but there is no evidence to support the theory one way or the other.

frog - In fiber artist slang, to pull knitting off the needles and unravel it.  This is by far our most recent frog, with the first attested use c. 1996.  The etymology usually given is that if you pull out all your needlework you “rip it, rip it,” which of course sounds like a frog.  This may or may not be a folk etymology, but given the recent informal invention of the term, it’s entirely possible.

        I called this list a plague of frogs, but of course all these words are not a disaster at all, but instead a party!  I first became tickled by the idea that there were multiple unrelated meanings of the word frog when I began to play the cello at age ten, and around that same time came upon the word frog to refer to the decorative knotted fastenings.  I remember feeling quite delighted by this quirk of the English language.  I hope it delights you, too.
        (And if you want to enjoy a few more relief block prints of frogs, you can revisit art by Alcorn, Frasconi, Wormell 1, and Wormell 2.)

[Pictures: Dancing Frogs, wood block print by Tokuriki Tomichiro, 1950s (Image from Ukiyo-e.org);

Leap Frog Boys, woodcut by Leona Pierce, 1951 (Image from The Old Print Shop);

Magyar Hussar with frogs on his jacket, his belt, and his horse, wood block print after a drawing by Jost Amman, c. 1550 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);

Bullfrog, collagraph by AEGN, 2012.]

January 23, 2023

Staples and Crayons

         How long have you been writing?  Authors hear this question a lot, and it arose again during the author question-and-chat period following the most recent Strong Women-Strange Worlds group author reading.  This time, though, a funny pattern became apparent among the answers.  I always tell people that I’ve been writing - and wanting to be a writer - for as long as I can remember.  But the first author to answer at this event said that although lots of authors seem to have been making little books out of staples and crayons since they were kids, she had really only started writing in 2012.  When all the other authors chimed in, it seemed as if every author there had either been a staples and crayons kid, or had also begun writing in 2012!  Okay, perhaps not all 2012, but there was a definite bivalent pattern.  Listening to the chat, I thought it might be fun to share my own earliest efforts at making books, since I was definitely one of those staples and crayons kids.
        My mother not only has a PhD in history, but also comes from a long line of pack rats, so she kept a fair sampling of my childhood projects, for which I am very grateful.  It gives me a good chuckle at my own early efforts, and it allows me to share a few with you.  Although the original idea behind this post was not just about early story-writing, but specifically about the attempt to make actual little books, I’m starting with the first proper story I can find.  I wrote and illustrated this at the age of four and a half, and in case you can’t follow, the story begins in the middle of the page, goes to the bottom, then up to the top, then to the middle and down again.  It reads “Once-upon a time in the sea there was 5 octopuses.  And the octopuses 
played.”  In case you’re thinking this isn’t really a story, I would like to point out that anything beginning
 “Once upon a time” is definitely a story.  I will also direct your attention to The Happy Little Elephant, a prior post examining a story written about two years later, and the similar weakness of its plot.
        But next up is the first actual “book” I can find among the stuff my mother saved.  It’s a 12-page codex entitled Two Dogs (if you correct the spelling) and written, as my mother noted, all by myself at the age of five and a half.  I point out that it was made with scrap paper that already had writing on it.  That was pretty standard for my creations, and Young Me had a tendency to hoard and treasure any paper that was actually clean and blank on both sides.  (To be honest, I kind of still do!)
        I wrote and “published” Anne’s Fairy Tales right around my seventh birthday.  The picture shows the cover and the beginning of the second tale.  You can see that I was not breaking any new ground in my stories!  I was still obsessed with fairy tales when I wrote and bound The Moon Pearl.  I also include a view of A Book of Poems, also all quite terrible, but very enthusiastic.  And I include, too, a picture of some higher-quality  efforts as I got older and continued my making of books unabated.
        So what’s the point of all this?  Well, it does in fact confirm what I always tell people, which is that I wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember.  It also shows that my love of fantasy and love of poetry have been 
there right from the start (as well as a love of animals).  More generally, though, these early stories and poems of mine illustrate that what you read is the raw material that will be turned into what you write.  I don’t really have a sense of whether these earliest writings were particularly good for the age I was, but I do know that my teachers and parents were very encouraging, and perhaps that’s the last important point: that if a kid has something they love, whether or not they seem to be prodigiously talented at it, they should 
be encouraged.  It will give them the strength to build their dreams which, I can attest, is an endeavor that should never be completed.  I’m still taking delight in writing my stories and making my little books.

[Pictures: Octopuses, story by AEGN, January 1975;

Two Dogs, book by AEGN, April 1976;

Anne’s Fairy Tales, book by AEGN, July 1977;

A Book of Poems, book by AEGN, fall 1978;

The Moon Pearl, book by AEGN, spring 1979;

Bound books by AEGN from 1983-1985.]

January 18, 2023


         I love the moon, and I’m hardly alone in this.  The moon has exerted a more-than-gravitational pull on humans since the first time we looked into the night sky.  I've shared lots of previous posts featuring art inspired by the moon (Observing the Moon), poetry (Singing on the Moon
D is for Diddle), and speculative fiction about the moon (A True Story; The Great Moon Hoax).  Today I’ve got two more pieces depicting lunar landscapes with a distinctly speculative bent.
        The first is an engraving by Filippo Morghen (Italy, 1730-c1807), and it comes from a suite of ten etchings entitled “The collection of the most notable things seen by John Wilkins, erudite English bishop, on his famous trip from the Earth to the Moon.”  I love that Morghen basically imagined a sci fi adventure, but simply hints at it by depicting highlights.  John Wilkins, you may remember, was a real person, whom you can find in my previous post about his 1638 book Discovery of a World in the Moone, in which Wilkins proposes logical reasons to suppose that the moon may well be inhabited.  So Morghen took this a step farther and imagined that Wilkins had indeed reached the moon.  This particular piece from the collection is entitled “Pumpkins used as dwellings to secure against wild beasts,” and depicts enormous pumpkin vines towering up out of a swamp, with windows, doors, and ladders.  I love the detail of laundry hanging out, as well as the way Morghen has made the plants in the foreground spill very slightly over the border of his etching.  A particularly interesting thing that didn’t occur to me immediately, however, is the reminder that pumpkins are a New World plant, and the tiny moon-people in this image were also clearly inspired by people of the New World.  For Europeans of this time 
period, the discovery of the Americas seemed as amazing and fantastical as reaching the moon.  New worlds could be discovered and explored (and exploited), so why should the moon be any more improbable?
        I’ve paired this with another lunar landscape, drawn by E. Hering in 1901 as an illustration of The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells.  Over a hundred years later and artists were still imagining that the moon would be covered in giant vegetables!  Now that yet another century has passed, we all know the surface of the moon is just dust, so we have to push our fantasies either under the surface of the moon, or onto other bodies farther into space.  As for me, I confess that my love of the moon has no desire that it support life, or that people go there… indeed, I think its distance and isolation are part of the appeal.  But I still am charmed by these images of a strange and swampy sister world.

[Pictures: Pumpkins used as dwellings to secure against wild beasts, engraving by Filippo Morghen, after 1778 (Image from The Met);

The crest on which we were was high and commanded a wide prospect of the crater landscape, illustration by E.Hering from The Cosmopolitan, March 1901 (Image from Google Books).]

January 11, 2023

Alien Cities

         Today I have a few strange and alien cities to share with you.  In each case the artist’s style is radically different from anything I do, and yet in the first two cases I, too, have made a piece that I think reveals a bit of the same curiosity, fascination, and imagination at work.  First up is Toward the Sky by Yoshida Toshi (Japan, 1911-1995).  This has a wonderfully doodly 
sensibility, which reminds me of my own 
City I and City II (about which you can read more in prior post Cities of Dreams).  Yoshida’s piece has a playful vibe somewhere between mid-century atomic and psychedelic, which isn’t so surprising given that it was made in 1965.  At the same time, though, there’s a peaceful wistfulness about it, as the strange, towering structures stand all by themselves in a vast empty plain under a vast empty sky.  Do you think it’s sunrise or sunset?  Although the title doesn’t tell us where this city stands, I’m convinced it must be on an alien planet.  It’s also quite large for a block print, about two feet wide, which I think must make those open, luminous spaces even more dramatic, although I haven’t seen this in person.
        Next is a more abstract piece whose alien city designation comes more from the title than anything you might recognize at first glance.  Martian Worm Village is a relief block print by Alan Shields (USA, 1944-2005).  I love the suggestion of Martian worms making maps of their towns, complete with Martian symbols representing I don’t know what.  Do you have any idea what the different shapes and colors might mean?  Although it is visually and stylistically very different from my Symbiote City (about which you can read more in this prior post), still I think Shields and I were both fascinated by the idea of alien life forms going about
their own alien lives, and how different their living spaces might be.  His are presumably underground while mine are up in the atmosphere, but I particularly love that I can imagine his being depicted by the Martian worms themselves, while mine is illustrated by an outside observer.
        In today’s final piece the alien city is just one element of a very surreal image by Marcel Molina (Cuba, b. 1987).  A person - if that’s what it is with a fingerprint for a face - reads some sort of magazine or newspaper.  On the back page are images like the icons for Olympic sports, but on the front is this view of a city with a huge figure atop a skyscraper like King Kong, and giant
tentacles in the foreground like some a
lien or cthulu-monster.  What do any of these elements have to do with each other?  Where is this city?  Is it a disaster, or is this all perfectly normal for that city in that place?  The way the sky is portrayed as jags of light adds to a sense of doom, but you never know.  The block I’ve paired with this 
piece is not my own, but one made by a student in a summer class for children.  The difference in detail between wood engraving by a professional and rubber block print by a child is, of course, considerable, but I think both artists were inspired by the sense of dread and confusion of monstrous, uncontrollable forces.
        Do you imagine alien cities?  What do you think they’d be like?  Would you like to visit, or would you just as soon stay safely in more familiar places?

[Pictures: Toward the Sky, wood block print by Yoshida Toshi, 1965 (Image from Minneapolis Institute of Art);

City I and City II, rubber block prints by AEGN, 2019;

Martian Worm Village, color woodcut with stamp additions by Alan Shields, 1996 (Image from Kansas State Beach Museum of Art);

Symbiote City (Venusian Medusae), rubber block print by AEGN, 2020;

El diálogo, wood engraving by Marcel Molina, 2014 (Image from Universidad de Puerto Rico);

Kraken, rubber block print by PGN, 2015.]

January 6, 2023

What's New in the New Year

         New month, new year, and still as busy as ever.  Plenty of the things keeping me so busy are of no interest or relevance to this blog, of course, and unfortunately plenty of those things are keeping me too busy to do any writing in the last couple of months, which I’m not so happy about.  But there has been plenty of activity on the art front, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been up to in that department.
        First of all, I finished two new pieces just under the wire in 2022.  First of these is another steampunk creature.  Steampunk’s popularity has been waning and it’s no longer the hot trend it was, but I still like it!  (It’s always been a bit of a puzzle to me how people can be so fickle in their likes.  Do you actually like something, or don’t you?  But that’s beside the point.)  However, steampunk is still around enough that I finally got the opportunity to apply for a booth at a local steampunk festival.  I’ll find out later this month whether I was accepted, but in the meantime I got inspired enough to make this steam-powered insectivore.  I started with a base of the 1804 steam engine by Richard Trevithick, which had come to my attention last spring, and is featured in this previous post.  Then I had to decide what creature could best be combined with this steam engine.  I thought the large flywheel should match up with a large 
round haunch.  A bear would be the right shape, with its hindquarters higher than its 
shoulder, but I thought it would be funnier to imagine a whole steam engine miniaturized in a small beastie.  And really when you start to think about it, you can see at once how well-suited Trevithick’s engine is to power an elephant shrew.  I’ve been delighted by the black and rufous elephant shrew ever since encountering them at a zoo nearly fifteen years ago, and this was the perfect opportunity to feature one!  As with my other steampunk creations, I like to imagine a bit of back story about the invention of this little mechanical companion, and in this case it was created, of course, for pest control.  Let this little critter keep your home free of cockroaches and other unwanted insects!  (Admittedly, it’s a bit of a fire hazard, and it may spew a bit of coal smoke…  But hey, those Victorian-era inventors never allowed themselves to be held back by minor details like that.)
        Then there’s a very different piece, also completed just before the new year, but actually the end point of a very long history.  It is made of two separate blocks, and the black block - just the outlines of the place setting - was carved twenty years ago in 2002 or 2003.  (Oh my goodness, “twenty years ago”… I almost gave myself a heart attack just thinking about it!)  But it was, frankly, boring, and I never printed it.  Then about a year or so ago I rediscovered the block and started thinking about how I might do something fun with it.  I considered watercoloring a background, and I considered printing it on patterned paper…  But eventually, after long, intermittent mulling, I decided to carve a second block to go with it.  I’m kind of obsessed with blue and white china, and blue and white tablecloths for my dining room, so obviously that’s what sort of place setting this was going to be.  As usual, registration (lining up the two blocks) was the hardest part, so I ended up having to print and discard a ton of extras that didn’t come out.  But in the end I am pretty pleased with it.  But then, I may be biased, what with my blue-and-white obsession.  We’ll see whether the rest of the world likes it!
        I began the new year with a bang, hanging a solo show at the Newton Public Library on the third.  I managed to fit 38 pieces into the exhibit space, for a show entitled Wonders Everywhere.  The theme is really just the theme of all the art I ever do!  The show will be up through the month of January.
        Meanwhile I was already starting preparations for the Arisia art show, which will be up at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel January 13-16 during the convention.  I plan to hang no fewer than 60 pieces on my allotted panels.  Yes, I know, I know, you shouldn’t overcrowd your display… People can focus on and admire each individual piece better if there’s space around… It will all look more clean and slick and professional if it’s not a big jumble… Viewers can get a better sense of how a piece might look hanging on their own wall… Less is more… I know, I know, and I believe it all.  But I just can’t help myself.  If I bring fewer pieces, people will see fewer pieces.  And they can’t enjoy what they never saw.  So I shrug and fit in as many pieces as I can.  Which means that this month I need to have just shy of 100 pieces of art framed and hung simultaneously, which is why the past couple of weeks I have been madly matting and framing and laying out arrangements of art all over the floor.  But I’m on the home stretch now, and looking forward to Arisia.
        Meanwhile, all the December shows are over, so yesterday I had to drive out and pick up pieces from a show in Lexington, while tomorrow I’ll have to drive in and pick up a piece from a show in Jamaica Plain.
        Meanwhile, work is beginning to ramp back up in organizing Strong Women-Strange Worlds author readings (I’ll be one of the authors presenting my work on March 3) and organizing Needham Open Studios (which will be May 6-7).
        Meanwhile, I’m not getting any writing done, but I certainly can’t complain that I don’t have enough to keep me busy!  (And I am trying to keep up-to-date with submissions of the stories and poems I do have.)  For my next creative endeavor I have to think of some little block to carve as a demo during workshops at Arisia.  Any ideas?

[Pictures: Steam-Powered Insectivore, rubber block print by AEGN, 2022;

Trevithick’s Locomotive, wood engraving (by H.W. Benno?) from The Progress of Invention in the Nineteenth Century by Edward W. Byrn, 1900 (Image from Internet Archive);

Black and rufous elephant shrew, photo by AEGN, 2009;

A Place at the Table, rubber block print from two blocks, AEGN, 2022.]