If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?

If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? --Albert Einstein

Sunday, April 28, 2013


I love onomatopoeia.

You remember, words that sound like their definition. In writing my book, I needed my character to wail in anguish. I needed a really strong onomatopoeia.
The internet is a wealth of amazing information. Yet, I have to wonder who puts in the countless hours in front of a screen plugging in this drivel--I mean, data. I don’t know who you guys are, but I’m grateful for your time and personal sacrifice.

Here are a couple of interesting websites that helped me this week. First, check out “Written Sound: How to Write the Sound of Things” at You can peruse an alphabetical listing of all the collected “words that imitate sounds.” Or you can search them by topics such as Weather, Music, Explosions, or Gas.
Check it out. These words can be fun. You’ll find the old stand-bys you studied in fifth grade such as buzz, giggle, and hiccup. And a couple I would challenge as onomatopoeia at all, like oops or cliche. (Really? A worn, played-out phrase sounds like cliché? I can’t see it or hear it.)

Gwuf, gwuf
But then there are the unique and intriguing ones like …
           Flibbertigibbet: a flighty, gossipy young woman          
       Gwuf, gwuf, gwuf: footsteps (Can’t you hear them?)
           Kish, kish: ice skates during a hockey game

And, although I’ve never been on a subway during an important announcement, I can imagine the loudspeaker sounds like “thisshig rrrerrk.”
But what about wailing in anguish? I found “argh,” which according to one entry on Urban Dictionary (, is “the correct version of an expression of frustration or anger.”

The sample sentence given is "No brigette, argh is spelled with an h and not just arg."

You would think someone so concerned about the correct spelling of a word like argh would know to capitalize a proper noun. More than that, as it turns out, the word arg or argh has more spellings than you can possible imagine.
For that, may I direct you to “The Aargh Page” at On that page is an impressive chart of all the possible spellings of aargh, along with how often and where each spelling has been found in print—from argh to (I kid you not) aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!!!

Whoever put this together, I commend you while I urge you in the strongest possible terms to get out more.
As for my story, I had my character cry, “Aarrrrgh,” showing he is obviously in pain without being, you know, too splashy.

Ahem. Anyway, in order to avoid too much babble and blather, descending into gibberish—you know, yadda yadda yadda--I believe I’ll close. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Eighteenth Century Desperate Housewives

You’re a Christian in eighteenth century Europe. Life becomes so unbearable that you don’t want to live. According to your religious beliefs, however, when you commit suicide, you are damned for all time. What to do?
But wait! Not if you murder someone else. You may be hanged for homocide, but you can repent on the gallows, obtain absolution, and spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. Voila!
This was the reasoning of a number of people from around 1612 to 1839. They no longer wanted to live, but in order to avoid an eternity of hellfire, they decided to commit murder instead.

But these were not uncaring people. In their “kindness,” they often killed an innocent child, one whose pure soul would enable him to go straight to heaven himself. (One woman slit a boy’s throat so severely, she said she could “look down into his neck,” in her own words.)
Once the deed was done, they immediately went to the authorities to report their crime, and await execution. A win-win.
I first heard about this convoluted thinking on PBS’s This American Life. Last August, the episode entitled “Loopholes” featured Kathy Stuart of the University of California Davis who has researched this phenomenon known as “suicide by proxy.”

Stuart discovered about 300 of these cases that occurred over 200+ years, usually committed by women. Some, she noted, did not even express regret over what they did. So how did that work? If they were not sorry, how could they be forgiven and escape damnation?
The priests or ministers at the gallows would often ask, “Do you think God can be fooled in this manner? You know that by doing this you actually have committed suicide.”

The perpetrators agreed, according to Kathy Stuart. But the accused merely confessed these crimes as well—and then repented. Problem solved.
Officials were frustrated by this trend and, in 1702, made the executions more painful and shaming. Nope. Didn't work. These people were looking to die; they didn’t care.

In 1767, courts went so far as to take away the very incentive for the horrific crime—they removed the death penalty altogether. That should have stopped the behavior in its tracks. And yet, it continued.
Beyond understanding, the practice did not end until the next century. “It really seems like people didn’t get the memo,” Stuart says.

Sooo, they killed a small child, confessed, repented, and spent their even more miserable lives in some hole of a prison. Obviously, these “desperate housewives” were not as clever as they thought. The "dumb criminals" of yore.