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Czech Teymology

Etymologist by Night

The library building may be open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, but being a librarian involves a set of skills that aren’t always easy to switch off. When I’m not being a librarian in the workplace, I find that I’m most often engaged as an etymologist for friends and family. In other words, I’m the go-to person when someone wants to know the history of a word beyond the simple definition. Luckily for them, I find etymology, or the history of words, fascinating.

There are a lot of interesting books and resources about the history of words, phrases, and their uses. Stay with me, I know dictionaries aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but there’s some fascinating, occasionally sordid and often amusing, history behind the things we say. The Oxford English Dictionary, for instance, is arguably the unshakable bastion propping up the English language, the last word on all English definitions. The OED has been around forever, right? And is the product of the most learned, scholarly minds in academia? No, and…qualified yes. In fact, the OED project began in 1857 and took seventy years to complete, included the contributions of tens of thousands of people, and organized the English language into 414,825 precise definitions (there are over 615,000 word forms now by the way, with new words added every year). However, one of the largest contributors never joined the team of professors at Oxford University, despite numerous invitations to do so, choosing instead to submit all his entries by mail. Lo and behold, this man, important contributor to our literary history, was clinically insane, a murderer, locked up in England’s harshest asylum for criminal lunatics. The whole tale is spun out in Simon Winchester’s “The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.” Want to know more? Winchester delves deeper into the brilliant minds that crafted the OED, offering little known anecdotes (who knew “marzipan” would be so difficult to define?) and interesting bits of knowledge in his book, “The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary.”

My favorite on-the-go quick reference for etymology is a website called the Online Etymology Dictionary, found by visiting These folks really do their research, and their word histories are legitimate enough to be quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary. The Online Etymology Dictionary is an optimal way to satisfy your curiosity on a whim, and also to settle friendly arguments about word usage (I’m not the only person who has these arguments, right?)

While the Online Etymology Dictionary covers many, many words, you’re not as likely to find the history of phrases catalogued. Why in the world to we say “it’s raining cats and dogs” during a heavy rain? To learn more about the etymology of idioms and other phrases, try “Common Phrases and Where They Come From” by Myron Korach. Spoiler: “let her rip” does not mean what you think it means.

Speaking of cats and dogs, there are an awful lot of words and phrases in English relating to animals. If this piques the interest of all you animal lovers, check out “Dog Days and Dandelions: A Lively Guide to the Animal Meanings Behind Everyday Words” by Martha Barnette, or “Six Words You Never Knew Had Something to Do with Pigs, and Other Fascinating Facts About the English Language” by Katherine Barber.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, you might be interested in a couple more etymological honorable mentions. “Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: a Writer’s Guide to Getting it Right” by Bill Bryson is a solid fixture for word-nerds, and is a witty work Bryson fans won’t want to miss; this was actually his first book. “Word Mysteries & Histories, From Quiche to Humble Pie” by Robert Claiborne is also worth a look, plus there are illustrations.

So, why care about etymology? If you’ve read this far, then I probably don’t need to convince you of the importance and fun of learning for learning’s sake. In addition, being able to whip out interesting facts about word histories will impress your smart friends, and earn you laughs at parties. Priorities, people. If you want a hand finding these or other books, just ask a librarian. Or, feel free to browse the 423 call number section on the Mezzanine level of the library.

Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the April 14, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

women history

Coming to Light

As a mother raising two teenage girls, I find myself thinking about role models quite a bit. These days who do our girls have to admire? I’m grateful for the fact that strong women are out there inventing technologies, running companies, and changing the world. While there are still fences to be climbed and boundaries to be pushed, my daughters’ generation has a growing confidence that they can do anything they put their minds to.

For years females were overlooked in our history books. The good news is authors are now rectifying that discrepancy and filling in the gaps. Women who were overlooked in the past are coming to light. For example, did you know about a woman named Rosalind Franklin whose research was instrumental in the discovery of the structure of DNA? When James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins’ work was published in 1953 however, Franklin did not become a household name. Only now is her story being revealed.

Or perhaps you’ve heard of “The Girl Paul Revere” recently? Sybil Ludington was a courageous young girl who outdid Paul Revere during the American Revolution, riding 40 miles to warn her father’s troops that British had begun burning Danbury, CT. She rode from 9 pm until dawn, at one point defending herself with her father’s musket against the enemy. The good news is Sybil Ludington’s Midnight Ride by Marsha Amstel presents this heroine to young readers. Likewise a movie entitled Sybil Ludington: The Female Paul Review was produced by Kicks Flicks to honor her heroic actions as well.

Lately I’ve been reading books about other woman who were under the radar historically. The Astronaut Wives Club: A True Story by Lily Koppel is a non-fiction book that takes a fascinating look into the lives of the wives who were behind NASA’s spacemen. As the jacket flap describes, these women “formed the Astronaut Wives Club, providing one another with support and friendship, coffee, and cocktails.” Until now their lives were often glossed over by the media. Being married to a NASA hero was not all that it was cracked up to be. Reporters invaded their lives. The wives felt like they were under an unspoken contract to make everything at home look as perfect as Camelot. Real strength was required to maneuver their families through the day to day upheavals, including the roving eyes of some of their husbands, or sudden accidents or losses.

In terms of historical fiction, I’ve also discovered a few unsung heroes of late. Many of Susan Vreeland’s books intrigue me. Vreeland is known for her in-depth historical research and for telling a story through an oft overlooked character’s point of view. Clara and Mr Tiffany is one of these stories. Vreeland weaves the story of Clara Driscoll, an amazing woman living in the Gilded Age who, as it turns out, was the designer of nearly all the iconic leaded-glass lamps for Tiffany Studios.

Remember the dragonfly and daffodil patterns in those gorgeous Tiffany lamps? Those were Driscoll’s designs. Without the recent revelation of Driscoll’s letters to her family, Vreeland would never have been able to tell this tale. Like many women of that age, ultimately Clara Driscoll had to choose between having love in her life or a career as Tiffany’s prized glass designer.

Another author who creates fictional stories revolving around lesser known historical women is Jennifer Chiaverini. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the seamstress, Elizabeth Keckley, in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. The character of Keckley is based on Mrs. Lincoln’s real life dressmaker who fashioned dresses for Washington DC’s elite. As a designer, “Keckley supported the First Lady through years of war, political strife, and devastating personal losses, even as she endured heartbreaking tragedies of her own.” While Chiaverini filled in the historical gaps with story, she researched Keckley’s life thoroughly, using the dressmaker’s own memoir entitled Behind the Scenes (1868).

Certainly all of these revelations give me hope that the tides are changing, that my daughters won’t have to hunt far and wide to find the stories of women who have played vital roles in history. Actually, my ultimate hope is that they will become the very women whom history will remember, women in the forefront instead of the background. An ideal wish? Perhaps! But we mothers like to dream.

Nancy Ling is an Outreach Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read the published version of Nancy Ling’s column in the March 31, 2016 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Wasp hive in eaves

Beyond My Job Description

When I worked at the Washanuck Library there was a wasp-nest humming in its eaves; a football sized wasp-nest that discharged angry bullets (or were they wasps?), which, if they could have spoken, would have said, “Stay away from our hive.”

I carried overdue books, a backpack, and a water-bottle up to the front door where I didn’t notice the yellow fiend, dart side pointed skyward, who had positioned itself on the door-handle. The eaves weren’t enough; the hive wanted the whole building, the books and their vanilla scented pages, the crisp air-conditioning, the new computers and DVDs. I imagined the queen sitting in her glob of honey, rubbing her prickly feelers, humming,
“More! More!”

An electric shock shot through my hand when I touched the knob, and, as I recoiled, the felled wasp thudded to the ground in a sound no louder than a raindrop plopping onto pavement. Then another shock in my neck. And another. A buzzing storm burst into life around me, and I hurried inside, pulling the door closed, pinioning a wasp, splitting it, between the door and its frame. My water-bottle, a casualty, rolled into the parking-lot. The electric shocks exploded into three burning welts that puffed from my skin.

Kathy came around the corner holding an icepack to her cheek; holding another at the end of her outstretched arm.

“Got you, too?” she asked.

I nodded, and put the ice pack on my neck where I could cover two welts at once. She looked through the door at angry wasps crashing into the glass. Thump. Thump, Thump. Thump. Like hail on a windshield.

“What are we going to do,” she asked.

We were only two employees that piloted this library in rural Rhode Island, and we were at war with the wasps. Somedays I was the children’s librarian and the reference librarian. Other days I was the webmaster and the custodian. Today, there was nothing I wanted to be less than the custodian—the general to lead the battle against the wasps. We were outnumbered. It was beyond my job description.

“Do we have wasp spray,” she asked.

We rummaged under the sink and in the closet between brooms and buckets, but only found a fossilized marshmallow. No wasp spray. Kathy stood and disappeared into the nonfiction section. She plodded around, moving the step stool, shelving and moving books. A pause. The wasps had stopped pounding against the door. Kathy turned the corner her arms pressing an armload of books against her chest.

“Let’s try these,” she said.

She laid book after book on the table “Sustainable Pest Control,” “Just Beeat It: A home guide to bee and wasp extermination,” and even “Ain’t No Bats in this Belfry.” We searched through the indexes, whispering “Wasps… Wasps… Wasps…” our fingers running down the lines of text.

“There it is,” Kathy said, “Peppermint.” She jumped from the table and scurried to the staff room. The cabinet doors banged. Silverware shifted, metal hitting metal, in the drawers. A chair was dragged across the floor. Then the pattering of Kathy’s footsteps echoed as she walked back to me holding a tiny brown vial up to the light.

“We used this last winter to make peppermint hot chocolate for Storytime,” she said.
We mixed the peppermint oil with a half-bottle of Windex and hot water from the faucet.
“Here’s what we’ll do,” she said, “Well… what you’ll do. Open the bathroom window and spray the hive from there. You’ll have to do it since you’re taller.”

I eyed the bottle, grabbed it, and fought myself on the walk to the window wishing it were winter and that the snow would come and put the hive to sleep for a season. In the bathroom, the buzzing arpeggiated, rising and falling, echoing louder and louder off the tile. I cracked open the window–only wide enough to spray a thin, direct stream at the hive. I aimed, and then I squeezed.

My mother is an expert markswoman, but I didn’t inherit her talent. Instead, I missed the first shot, but struck a floating drone and sent it spiraling groundward. A few curious friends buzzed around it, and then the buzzing started. I squeezed the bottle again. I hit the hive. And again. The stream pierced a hole in the papery bulb. Again. I sliced the stem, and the hive crashed onto the ground, splitting open like a ripe watermelon. I closed the window before any angry wasps could find my hiding spot and watched a pixelated cloud of angry wasps, now homeless, fly in all directions, swarming, beating their wings so fast my teeth shook with the vibration.

I locked the window shut and walked out to the front door to watch as the cloud of wasps buzzed one way and then the other, struggling to fly away with heavy Windex wings, repulsed by the scent of peppermint. I opened the door, and walked to the parking-lot waiting for another electric shock sting. But nothing came. I shuffled to my water-bottle, picked it up, and then went back inside to open the library with Kathy.

It didn’t take long for Kathy and I to laugh about our war with the wasps, and it turns out that we aren’t the only librarians to have had battles like this one. Check out Marilyn Johnson’s “This Book is Overdue!,” Rebecca Makkai’s “The Borrower,” or Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s “The Shadow of the Wind” (also in Spanish!) for more stories about what librarians, libraries, and books can do. Now I work at the Morrill Memorial Library, and I don’t have to worry about wasp-nests.

Samuel Simas is the technology assistant at the Morrill Memorial library; he is a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Library and Information Studies. Read Sam’s column in the April 7, 2016 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Ziggy Stardust

Ziggy Played Guitar… And Read a lot Too

by Kate Tigue

It’s been over two months since legendary rock star David Bowie passed away at the early age of sixty-nine after a near two year battle with cancer. Fans around the world were devastated and shocked as the notoriously private musician didn’t share much about his personal life with the media and his death proved to be no exception. Bowie was so reclusive that it is not even known what type of cancer he had. We do know one thing for sure from Bowie’s public statements and interviews: his love of music was only paralleled by his love of reading. Yup, the world’s biggest rock star was also an obsessive bibliophile. In 1998, Vanity Fair magazine published Bowie’s answers to the infamous Proust Questionnaire. The first question asks “What is your idea of perfect happiness?” Bowie responded simply, “Reading”.

David Bowie also seemed to have an affinity for libraries. The singer once described himself as “a born librarian with a sex drive” (Hey! Librarians are people too, Mr. Bowie!). He also had a library in his home and supposedly had kept every book he’d ever bought or been given in a warehouse. In 1987, Bowie went public with his love of libraries by agreeing to pose for the American Library Association’s (ALA) celebrity “READ” posters. After his death, ALA was so inundated with requests for the classic poster that the organization’s graphics department has issued a limited-run reprinting. The Morrill Memorial Library currently has one framed and hanging in the young adult room so come check it out!

Looking for more David Bowie? Currently, the Morrill Memorial Library subscribes to Hoopla, an online digital streaming service that is only available to Norwood residents with a valid email address. Hoopla provides free easy access to stream and temporarily download thousands of movies, TV shows, music albums, audiobooks, ebooks and comics to your mobile device or computer. For example, if you are craving some classic Bowie, why not check out his entire back catalog on Hoopla? It’s easy! You can sign up for a Hoopla account by clicking on the Hoopla quicklink on the right side of the library’s website, Have your library card at the ready to sign up after you watch our simple how-to-video or read our step-by-step instructions. Once you have signed up for a Hoopla account, you should also download Hoopla’s free mobile app for iOS, Android, or Kindle devices so you can access your Hoopla titles on the go with your phone or tablet. Now you are ready to go! Every Norwood resident may check out up to ten titles per month with their Hoopla account.

Hoopla has more than just music. Looking for some of the music and books that influenced Bowie? Check out the audiobook of Walter Tevis’ 1963 classic, “The Man Who Fell To Earth.” This science fiction novel features the story of the extraterrestrial Thomas Jerome Newton who comes to earth in order to save humanity but only finds loneliness, rejection and ultimately, tragedy. David Bowie once said, “I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I always felt puny as a human. […] I want to be superhuman”. Bowie later used his amazing talent to combine this desire with Tevis’ story to create the concept behind his fifth studio album, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” and, later on, the persona of Ziggy Stardust he used to perform on stage. Bowie also starred in his first major role as Newton in the 1976 film adaptation of Tevis’ novel, also titled “The Man Who Fell To Earth.”

Needless to say, David Bowie’s expansive musical range influenced a great number of recording artists who came after him. Like many of us who grew up after the height of Bowie’s fame had waned, I was introduced to him through secondary sources. During their legendary appearance on MTV’s popular “Unplugged” program, 90s mega-band Nirvana covered Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” featuring Kurt Cobain’s supremely haunting vocals. Although Bowie had never met Cobain, he always wondered why Nirvana chose to cover that particular song and praised Cobain’s interpretation, saying “that he [Cobain] did a good, straight-forward rendition and somehow sounded very honest”. High praise indeed. Millenials and GenXers can also thank Wes Anderson for introducing us to Bowie’s music via Seu Gorge’s Portuguese language covers on the soundtrack for “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Seu Jorge is a Brazilian musician who was featured in Anderson’s 2004 film as part of fictional oceanographer Steve Zissou’s ship crew, often in the background playing guitar and singing Bowie songs in Portuguese. His cover of “Life on Mars” is both beautiful and devastating.

Finally, if David Bowie felt he had the soul of a librarian, he certainly showed it when he compiled a bibliography of his top one hundred favorite books. The list shows off Bowie’s intellectual prowess as well as his eclectic tastes in genre from non fiction (“A People’s History Of The United States” by Howard Zinn) to true crime (“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote) to classics (“Vile Bodies” by Evelyn Waugh) to the quirky (“Private Eye” magazine). The full list can be found on Bowie’s website, where fans are encouraged to form Bowie Book Clubs! One of the reasons for David Bowie’s immense popularity is his ability and his music’s ability to relate to so many people from all walks of life and after his death, many groups are eager to claim him as one of their own. But he definitely was a librarian at heart. Rest in peace, Starman.

Kate Tigue is a Children’s Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Kate’s column in the March17th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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