Offendotron and Microagression

New words for me this week are offendotron and microagression. Both relate to a much-discussed topic: giving and taking offense.

I found the word offendotron in an article by Martin Daubney. I couldn’t find it in either the OED or Merriam-Webster, but the Urban Dictionary defines it:

offendotron: Person offended by anything, however innocuous.

Like offendotron, microaggression has yet to make it into my big dictionaries, but unlike the O word, microaggression already enjoys wide use.

According to an article on the blog Ricochet, the Student Government Association at Ithaca University in upstate New York, “concerned about the problem of microaggression,” is considering the creation of a tracking system “that students can use to anonymously report incidents of perceived bias on campus.”

The word was coined by Harvard professor Chester Pierce in 1970 as a term for “the insults and dismissals” inflicted on black Americans by non-black Americans. Since then, the meaning has been expanded to include sexist and other remarks:

The concept of microaggression has leapt from the shadows of academic writing into the bright light of general conversation, especially in the wake of widely consulted work by professors Derald Wing Sue and Madonna Constantine over the last seven or so years. Microaggressions, as these academics describe them, are quiet, often unintended slights—racist or sexist—that make a person feel underestimated on the basis of their color or gender.—John McWhorter, Time Magazine, March 21, 2014.

Aggression is an openly hostile act against someone. Aggressors are conscious that they are being offensive.

Microaggression, on the other hand, is an act that is not necessarily perceived as hostile by the person who commits it.

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Daily Writing Tips

High-stepping Stepchildren

English has several idioms that employ the words step and stepping.

As a verb, step means to lift the foot and set it down again on the ground in a new position.

As a noun, step is the act of stepping.

baby steps and giant steps
A “baby step” is a step that covers a very narrow distance:

Still, a year after Mr. Shumlin’s call to arms, progress can be measured only in baby steps.

A “giant step” is one that covers a wide distance, either forward or backward:

One of those amendments would address Citizens United which, [Stevens] wrote, was “a giant step in the wrong direction.”

goose-stepping
To goose step is to march in such a way that the legs swing sharply from the hips, and the knees are locked. Soldiers marching in this way resemble mechanical toys. Because this type of marching was a feature of Nazi military display, it is associated with fascist power.

Goose-stepping in unison may have been used by the Nazis to help brainwash people into following their cause, a new study suggests.

India and Pakistan’s aggressive border closing ceremony has been stopped after soldiers complained the high goose-stepping was wrecking their knee joints and causing foot injuries.

Confess that guns hold absolutely no interest or appeal for you, and you’re a leftist, a radical who won’t be happy until the jackbooted thugs of The New World Order are goose-stepping down Main Street, trampling Our Sacred Freedoms.

“Goose-stepping” always has a negative connotation, but another idiom, “high-stepping,” can be positive or negative.

Literally, “high-stepping” describes the act of lifting the legs high while walking. Because horse fanciers admired the gait of a high-stepping horse, a fashionable or attractive person came to be known as “a high-stepper.”

Sometimes the term is used in a negative sense to refer to someone who lives extravagantly, or who aspires to a higher social status:

Dona had come to town as a schoolteacher.  She was pretty, vivacious, and in the parlance of the time, a “high-stepper.”

Leo Donnelly, always at his peak in silk-lined, low-comedy, high-stepping crook roles, is here at his best.

The following sentence spoken by a NPR regular seems to confuse high-stepping and goose-stepping:

Nazi soldiers’ high stepping casts a fog over the event.

Note: The word fog is also jarring; perhaps the announcer was reaching for pall.

Two more idioms that have literal and figurative meanings are “to sidestep” and “to step up to the plate.”

The literal meaning of sidestep is to step aside, as if to avoid some physical obstacle:

Climbing from the carriage, she held her bag against her chest and tried to sidestep a puddle the size of a small lake.

Figuratively, “to sidestep” is to avoid involvement or responsibility:

Jefferson Township Sewer Authority hopes to sidestep big expense with grant money.

“Step up to the plate” comes from the game of baseball.

Note: Home plate is a 5-sided rubber slab at one corner of a baseball diamond at which a batter stands when batting and which must be touched by a base runner in order to score.

When it’s a player’s turn to bat, he “steps up to the plate.” Figuratively, the expression means to come forward and accept responsibility for something that must be done:

Community members stepped up to the plate and raised more than $ 2,700 for the Harmon Killebrew Miracle Field at a recent fundraiser.

Unrelated to the verb step in the sense of moving the feet is the affix step- as in stepchild.

This step derives from an ancient Germanic word element that was placed before the word for a family member “to form designations for the degrees of affinity resulting from the remarriage of a widowed parent.” For example, a widow who married a widower would become the stepmother of the widower’s children. They in turn would be her stepchildren.

Stepmothers in all the fairy tales I’ve read are notorious for their ill treatment of their stepchildren. Consider, for example, the stories of Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel.

Because of the stereotype of the wicked stepmother, the word stepchild has acquired the figurative meaning of “someone or something that is neglected, undervalued, or abused.” Here are some examples:

“It’s a sad fact that P.E. is education’s ugly stepchild,” said Goldstein.

Rarely is open space seen as more than an afterthought. It truly is a stepchild of planning when it should be a catalyst and spatial organizer for development. 

A fairly recent embellishment of stepchild in the sense of an object of abuse and neglect is the expression “redheaded stepchild.” The earliest evidence of the phrase in the Ngram Viewer is dated 1923. An article at World Wide Words references an example from 1910.

Like stepmothers, redheaded people do not fare well in folklore. If a stepchild is undervalued, then a redheaded stepchild is the object of special negative attention:

We then learned that Waukegan is apparently the North Shore’s red headed stepchild. 

The South is the red-headed stepchild in the American story. 

Note: The adjective is hyphenated in the OED, but spelled as one word in Merriam-Webster.

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Daily Writing Tips

Five Terms Related to Submitting a Manuscript

A reader asks about some terms:

I’m confused: What’s the difference between Submissions and Query Letters and Cover Letters and Biographies and Resumés?

As these terms are often used interchangeably on writing sites, the reader’s confusion is understandable. Perhaps the following explanations can help.

1. Query Letter
A query letter is a one-page letter intended to interest an editor in something a writer has written or intends to write. It should address the editor by name (spelled correctly) and begin with a hook: a strong statement that piques the editor’s interest.

If the query is about a magazine article, the hook might be the first paragraph of the article. The query should give the editor an idea of the structure and content of the piece being offered. If the offered work is a novel, the letter should include a description of the main theme and story line, including conflict and resolution (how it ends).

A query letter should tell why the author is qualified to write the article or book and end with a direct request for the desired magazine assignment or for permission to send a manuscript.

2. Cover Letter
When the editor asks to see a manuscript or sample pages, the writer includes a cover letter with the submission: a brief letter to accompany the manuscript or sample. Editors receive hundreds of queries. The cover letter is a practical and courteous way to remind the editor of the particulars of your initial query. Keep it short and don’t try to do any additional selling. It’s enough to say something like this: “Here’s the short story I queried you about on March 20, 2016. I look forward to hearing from you.”

3. Author’s Bio
The shortening bio for biography is the norm in the context of marketing written material. The bio focuses on the writer’s credentials. Publishers want to know if the writer has published before and is qualified to write about the material being offered. They do not want to know about the writer’s dogs, cats, children, hobbies, or any other irrelevancies.

4. Resumé
A resumé is a brief account of one’s education and professional experience. Some of the same information that belongs in a resumé can also have a place in an author’s bio, but a resumé will be more comprehensive regarding past employment. A writer who is applying for a job as an editor or a blogger will certainly offer a resumé to the potential employer.

Note: Although the French original is spelled with two accent marks (ré·su·mé) American spelling recognizes both resume and resumé. I favor a single accent for two reasons: the first accent is meaningless to most English speakers, but the final accent mark distinguishes the noun and its pronunciation from the verb resume.  For example: “I started writing my resumé today, but was interrupted. I’ll resume work on it in the morning.”

5. Submission
When an editor asks to see a partial or completed manuscript, the writer prepares a submission that includes a manuscript (partial or complete) and whatever additional material has been requested by an editor or publisher.

Before preparing a submission, the writer will consult the publisher’s guidelines to see how the manuscript should be formatted, how it should be sent (by mail or electronically), and what additional enclosures are wanted. The manuscript included in a submission should be as complete and as correct as the writer can make it.

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Daily Writing Tips

Polyamory

I learn a great many new words as I cruise the Web collecting examples of usage for my posts. This week I learned polyamory:

polyamory: the fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, especially in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

The adjective is polyamorous.

An article in The Atlantic describes the living conditions of three people who practice polyamory:

All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers. Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.

According to the Atlantic article,

Polyamorous people still face plenty of stigmas, but some studies suggest they handle certain relationship challenges better than monogamous people do.

This new demographic has already acquired a shortened form in headlines:

Poly demographic survey in the UK

What Do Polys Want?: An Overview of the 2012 Loving More Survey

Academic papers are being written on the polyamorous life style:

Not Monogamous? Not a Problem: A Quantitative Analysis of the Prevalence of Polyamory

 
The words polyamory and polyamorous show up on the Ngram Viewer in the 1980s, rising precipitately in the 1990s.

Here are some more familiar terms used to describe various types of sexual relationship that differ from monogamy:

polyandry
polygamy
bigamy
extramarital sex
adultery
infidelity
cuckoldry
fornication

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Daily Writing Tips

Work of Art Titles

When a freelance magazine writer asked me how the title of a sculpture should be written, I went to The Chicago Manual of Style to find out if it should be italicized, enclosed in quotation marks, or left plain.

Here is the advice I found and passed on to the writer:

Titles of paintings, drawings, photographs, statues, and other works of art are italicized, whether the titles are original, added by someone other than the artist, or translated. The names of works of antiquity (whose creators are often unknown) are usually set in roman.

Though major works of art are generally italicized, some massive works of sculpture are regarded primarily as monuments and therefore not italicized.

According to this advice, one should italicize Kindred Spirits (oil painting), Shore Lunch (non-monumental sculpture), and Rose and Driftwood (Ansel Adams photo), but leave the Venus de Milo (work of antiquity) and the Statue of Liberty (monumental) in roman type.

After the fact, I checked to see what The AP Stylebook has to say about italicizing titles. The AP editors are against it:

italics: AP does not italicize words in news stories.

According to AP guidelines, the titles of just about everything are enclosed by quotation marks: book titles, computer game titles, movie titles, opera titles, play titles, poem titles, song titles, television program titles, and works of art. Exceptions are the Bible and books that are “primarily catalogs of reference material.”

I decided to explore a few publications, American and British, to see how they do it. Two (both British) write the titles without italics or quotation marks. Four (all American) enclose the titles in quotation marks. Only one (also American) italicizes art titles, including works from antiquity. Here are seven of the examples I gathered:

The Telegraph (British)
I can hardly bear to look at a horrible little painting of a cloyingly sweet faced little girl entitled The Strawberry Girl, where the paint texture and layers of discoloured varnish were flattened during an early re-lining resulting in the ruin we see today

The Independent (British)
His giant sculptures, many of them human figures, include Yellow, a man ripping open his own chest and spilling out Lego innards (11,014 pieces make up the work), and a blue swimmer, as well as interpretations of masterpieces including the Mona Lisa

The New York Times (American)
The show includes works on loan as well as some of the gallery’s recent acquisitions that have not been on view before, such as Frantisek Kupka’s ”Organization of Graphic Motifs” and Yves Tanguy’s ”The Look of Amber.”

The Sacramento Bee (American)
Immediately you are struck by the rich and evocative figurative abstraction “Martyr With a Red Arm.”

Boston Globe (American)
Works like “Patina,” from 1975, and “Clavichord,” from 2002, feel like classic Ihara.

The New Yorker (American)
The sixth lot, “The Little White House,” a 1919 landscape by Willard Metcalf, sold for just over a million dollars.

The Smithsonian Magazine (American)
The Venus de Milo is the most famous sculpture and, after the Mona Lisa, the most famous work of art in the world.

Best advice: Consult the style guide of the publication for which the article is intended.

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Daily Writing Tips

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