Weird Words: Bend and Bow

It's that time of year when I worry about the Holly Bears. There can't be too many of them in rural France, but you never know.

In France, although there are Christmas songs, there isn't the same tradition of Carol singing, or bearding people to their front doors to either endure the performance with a smile or offer spiked mulled wine to the revellers in the hope of slowing them down. So French people don't know about Holly Bears, and the way they lurk behind Yuletide installations, with their cheerful red waistcoats and wreaths of ivy.

Traditional English woodland spirits aside, there must be something about December that gets me thinking about words. This time from another song, the nursery rhyme, London Bridge is Falling Down.
Courtesy of Bridgewater Links Golf Club - picturesque ain't she?

Thankfully this is no longer any concern for the City of London or its Mayor, since as any schoolboyorgirl knows, London Bridge is in Arizona. It's actually a very handsome bridge, and as the song says, once built up with stone-so-strong it seems to be making a good go of lasting ages long.

By now, you're all wondering what's in this drink.

The children's song asserts that London Bridge is Falling Down. Verse three proposes to shore up the structure with Iron and Steel (eye Nan steal, if you remember was a precious artefact shared between the three blind witches who advised Perseus on his quest to, *cough* borrow Medusa's head in order to kill 'the Kraken'... actually the mythology is all a little confusing in any case, and made all the worse by the 1981 film Clash of the Titans... But that's an excellent excuse for me to drop in a little homage to Ray Harryhausen.)

You might have the impression that this rambling tangential post is out of the ordinary, but actually all my blog posts start out this way. Then I edit them.

Now. Where was I?

Bend and Bow.

Pretty much anyone can pronounce bend. Bow can be a problem. Bad fantasy writers will say that one of their characters (either the cool one or the nerdy one, depends on the writer) is good with a bow. I say bad writers but actually they just don't know that for hundreds of years, people would say that someone was a skilful, gifted or experienced archer - but somewhere along the way, fantasy writers forgot that the word archer existed. Rant over.

In that situation, you know exactly how to say bow. And if I tie a ribbon or a shoelace you know, too. And also if I take a bow. But not if I take a bow and sew it onto a pretty frock. And if I go around to the bow of the ship, but not if I go around to the bow-window to look through it at the bow-fronted cabinet.

It's a minefield. A very small, very well indicated minefield that very few people can be bothered to cross. So lets go around.

In the song, Iron and Steel both bend and bow. In this case, bow is a verb. And you could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason why the song has both words is for the alliteration. Bend and Bow sound good together.

But whoever wrote the song (I'm reliably informed that Nobody Knows who wrote the song), clearly knew that bend and bow are not synonyms. They are very closely related verbs, but their meaning is both subtly, and extremely usefully, different.

In general, Iron is either very rigid and brittle, and therefore does not flex at all - if you try to bend it it will snap - or iron is rather soft, and will tend to bend like an elbow, sharply at its weakest point. Steel, however, can have another property - springiness. So steel, rather like a yew bow, can flex evenly all along its length, forming a continuous curve. Iron bends, steel bows. To bow is to flex like a steel spring or like a wooden (or fibreglass) bow, whereas to bend is to flex like iron, or an elbow.


Nothing is ever black and white in English, and words that are nearly synonyms often just are synonyms. There's no evidence that bend and bow signified different kinds of flexing from their derivations, and throughout much of their existence, they've been pretty much interchangeable. However, the distinction (which for bow-windows and bow-fronted cabinets might be a consequence or that might be a completely different word, bough) seems to have arisen around the way that a longbow flexes, and I quite like this nicety, unnecessary and seldom applied as it might be.

Oh... and the bow of a boat is completely unconnected, and actually comes from a word meaning shoulder so, er... don't put your trust in etymology.


Weird Words: Lacklustre and Dais

Haven't done one of these in a while, and these two words have caught my attention for very differing reasons.


I've already mentioned that I'm a fan of self-describing words, of which the best one I know is the French word cucu which means infantile. Cucu is actually baby-talk for cul which means, well, arse (ass in US English). So the French common-use word for infantile is not only an infantile word, but it's formed in an infantile way, from a completely transparent euphemism.

Love it.

Lacklustre is the opposite. It's a word that is not at all what it describes. The synonymous dull is practically onomatopoeia for dullness. Dull sounds like dull feels. Whereas lacklustre is a sparkly, ostentatious, attention-seeking anomaly. "Look at me!" shouts Lacklustre, "My dullness scintillates like myriad stars."

Love it even more. A word that is not what it means.


Authors seem to have a problem with this word. Hardly anyone other than authors even use it. In speech, I've only heard architects, historians and archaeologists.

And I suppose that authors are dimly aware that the word gets minimal use outside a few special contexts, because although many authors seem to want to use the word, most authors seem worried that readers won't know what it means. And rightly so. Doug Harper says the following:

Died out in English c. 1600, preserved in Scotland, revived 19c. by antiquarians.

This is his deliciously polite way of saying that in modern English its use is limited to a pretentious few.

So it's understandable that authors can't resist putting things like:

"on a low dais" (a dais is by definition a low platform)
"The raised dais" (the whole point of a dais is that it's raised)
"raised up on a low platform that formed a dais" (I'm speechless...)

In part, this issue arises because authors are not conscious enough of their, and their readers', relationships with words, and are making these qualifications, justifications and explanations unconsciously. But mainly, it's because these authors are not being judicious in their choice of words, instead allowing the words to 'flow out organically.'

I got new for you: you can do both. If you've trained yourself to be conscious of your word choices, then you can write organically, you can "pants" a whole lot more than just your plot; but only once the groundwork has been done.

Oh yes, and while I think of it, next year, 2016, over on Narrative Path (link in the tab at the top), you will be able to access the first 30 lessons of a course that will teach you how to become an effortless language expert. This is my 100 lessons poetry challenge. I'll blog again about it when it launches.


24 Things No One Tells You About Book Publishing that are oversimplified for clickbait

So there's this, and it's cute: On Buzzfeed

Here is the list, with my responses, with my view from both sides of the coalface.

1. When it comes to fellow writers, don’t buy into the narcissism of small differences. In all their neurotic, competitive, smart, funny glory, other writers are your friends.

Some folks are friends, some folks are not friends. And some folks are colleagues. Think of other writers as colleagues. If you become friends with another writer, congratulations: you made a friend. Not a writer-friend.

2. Unless you’re Stephen King, or you’re standing inside your own publishing house, assume that nobody you meet has ever heard of you or your books. If they have, you can be pleasantly surprised.

Be true to yourself when you react to being unrecognized or being recognized. 'Pleasantly surprised' is hard to fake, and I've seen it faked a whole lot. Badly.

3. At a reading, 25 audience members and 20 chairs is better than 200 audience members and 600 chairs.

This is complicated. Reading to 25 dedicated fans is hugely rewarding, and you'll get a really strong feel for how they feel about your book. But you won't get from them what you get from 200. If you have 200 people and 400 empty chairs, ask everyone to move down to the front so they're as close to you as possible. If necessary, tell them you prefer not to have to speak too loud. What you'll get from the 200 is a sense of what, in your book, is working. Because you'll feel a generalized reaction from the room, the way an actor or a standup does from an audience. You will learn so much more.

4. There are very different ways people can ask a published writer for the same favor. Polite, succinct, and preemptively letting you off the hook is most effective.

Okay, I have no idea what this means. So it may be good advice.

5. Blurbs achieve almost nothing, everyone in publishing knows it, and everyone in publishing hates them.

If this were true...
The reality is that too many people, both in publishing and on it's fringes, think a blurb is supposed to be some form of the statement "please buy this book, whoever you are." The best blurb, and I'm sure I'll never tire of saying it, is the blurb that does not try to get everyone to buy the book. The best blurb is the one that tries to ensure that people who will not like it do not buy it. It's carefully worded to say: this is the sort of thing this book is, if you like this sort of thing, open the book. If you don't like it, put it down.

6. But a really good blurb from the right person can, occasionally, make a book take off.

See? See above.

7. When your book is on best-seller lists, people find you more amusing and respond to your emails faster.

In demand. The funny thing about this is that it isn't that they are pretending to find you more amusing. They genuinely do. It's like the price tag on a bottle of wine.

8. When your book isn’t on best-seller lists, your life is calmer and you have more time to write.

See #19 below. When you are in demand, be blunt in your refusals: 'no, not now, I have to write,' is th best one.

9. The older you are when your first book is published, the less gratuitous resentment will be directed at you.

Haters gotta hate.

10. The goal is not to be a media darling; the goal is to have a career.

There's nothing wrong with being a Dilly if that's your thing. I know a couple of really smart people who could have become full time writers but who prefer to flit from one all consuming passion to another. So don't think that just because you had a success that you have to get all serious. Be true to your joy.

11. The farther you live from New York, the less preoccupied you’ll be with literary gossip. Like cayenne pepper, literary gossip is tastiest in small doses.

No. Comment.

12. Contrary to stereotype, most book publicists aren’t fast-talking, vapid manipulators; they’re usually warm, organized youngish women (yes, they are almost all women) who love to read.

Yes. Absolutely.

13. Female writers are asked more frequently about all of the following topics than male writers: whether their work is autobiographical; whether their characters are likable; whether their unlikable characters are unlikable on purpose or the writer didn’t realize what she was doing; how they manage to write after having children.

You want the biggest generality about gender? I'm going to give it to you: 
Female writers are generally better writers than male writers at the same level of sales, even though their cover prices are (still) generally lower.
There is a good reason for this, and it's called the 'approval gap.' Because, throughout their education, women have to work harder for the same level of approval, they work harder. And the continue to look out for anything that will give them an edge. Which means they are also more likely to try out other people's suggestions. On a positive note, in younger writers (those under 35 in the USA, under 50 in Europe) I'm seeing more and more men who work as hard as the women. So as the approval gap closes, the attainment gap closes too.

14. If you tell readers a book is autobiographical, they will try to find ways it isn’t. If you tell them it’s not autobiographical, they will try to find ways it is.

All books are autobiographical. Once I've read just one of your books, I KNOW YOU. And this is exactly as it should be. Underneath, all books are about being what we are.

15. It’s not your responsibility to convince people who don’t like your books that they should. Taste is subjective, and you’re not running for elected office.

I'd go even further. See #5 above. It is your responsibility to give the reader the best possible experience. But some people just aren't your reader. And you have a responsibility to discourage them from reading your books at all.

16. By not being active on social media, you’re probably shooting yourself in the foot. That said, faking fluency with or interest in forms of social media that don’t do it for you is much harder than making up dialogue for imaginary characters.

Meh. Social media is good for getting reader reaction. But not as good as live reading. Its effect on sales is limited. So have no regrets if you can't be doing with it.

17. If someone asks what you do and you don’t feel like getting into it, insert the word freelance before the word writer, and they will inquire about nothing more.

Awesome advice.

18. If you read a truly great new book and feel more excited than jealous, congratulations, you’re a writer.

See the gender divide on #13 above. There's this progress to maturity that begins with 'bastard, why didn't I think of that!' and progresses through 'damn, I wish I'd thought of that!' and finally matures to 'awesome, I'm totally using that in my next book!'

19. Fiercely, fiercely, fiercely protect your writing time.

Not kidding: your spouse should know that your marriage is at risk if he/she trespasses on writing time.

20. It’s OK to let your book be published if you can see its flaws but don’t know how to fix them. Don’t let your book be published if it still contains flaws that are fixable, even if fixing them is a lot of work.

Dangerous advice. Prioritize flaws. You have a duty to learn to be a better writer through each book. So eventually you have to weigh the seriousness of the flaw against the difference between what you will learn  by fixing it and what you will learn by moving on to the next book.

21. Talking about how brutally difficult it is to write books is unseemly. Unless you’re the kind of writer who’s been imprisoned by the dictatorship where you live and is being advocated for by PEN American Center, give it a rest.

In fact, if it is brutally difficult to write, you're doing something wrong. Perhaps we should talk?

22. Books bring information, provocation, entertainment, and comfort to many people. You’re lucky to be part of that.


23. Sometimes good books sell well; sometimes good books sell poorly; sometimes bad books sell well; sometimes bad books sell poorly. A lot about publishing is unfair and inscrutable. But…

But good authors endure longer than bad authors, and authors who get better and better endure longest of all. Even in this new world of digital publishing, this is as true as it ever was.

24. …you don’t need anyone else’s approval or permission to enjoy the magic of writing — of sitting by yourself, figuring out which words should go together to express whatever it is you’re trying to say.

This is a weird kind of advice. Everyone needs positive interaction with other people, and artists need to know that their work is appreciated and understood. So I'd qualify this by saying that until you have readers who depend on you (and that's how it feels, by the way), you don't need anyone's approval or permission to go in search of the magic of writing. But once your writing sees daylight—and realistically this means 'has been read by 200 or more strangers—approval matters and there's nothing wrong with admitting that you need it.

And in reality, a lot of people
do need permission. That's exactly what #24 is doing—it's giving you permission. It may be in your culture, or in the way you were raised. I have worked with many authors who needed someone to act as the authority figure and say to them "yes, you can do that, if you want to." People don't learn that they didn't need permission until after it has been given.


Old Website Formally Retired

In the interests of simplicity and efficiency, the old www.densewords.com website is now formally retired, and the address www.densewords.com now redirects here (www.harrydewulf.com).

This makes no difference to the services that I'm offering to authors, but it does streamline my online presence, and also limit's any confusion over which out of Narrative Path, densewords.com and harrydewulf.com people should come to.

The densewords website has been around a long time - since Autumn 2008. Here's a snapshot to remember it by:

"densewords" continues to be the name of my editing activities, and I continue to use the "Porte de la Craffe" logo.


More Antigrammar: the "sentence fragment"

If you use MSWord, or any other conventional commercial wordprocessor to do your writing, you may have used a "grammar checking" feature.

You might well expect me to put scare quotes around "grammar checking" but actually this feature in MSWord is pretty innocent, and for many people, extremely useful. I find the spell check dictionaries far more harmful, as they create false segregations. A whole generation of English speakers the world over is coming to believe that there clear divisions in spelling between the US and the UK, when until recently this has only been true for two spelling rules: meter/metre and color/colour.

You can learn a great deal from the grammar check - not least from realizing when it's wrong. If you're an author, run the grammar check on your latest manuscript. It will flag hundreds of "sentence fragments."

This is because in fiction it is extremely common to work in incomplete sentences. So common, in fact, that treating them as an error is definitely an error.

Grammarians often talk about parts of speech getting elided. Elision is when a word or phrase is left out, usually because it is implied by the context, so not really needed. When the main verb of a sentence gets elided, the sentence will be, to old school grammarians, ungrammatical*.

This is because we get our language via a tortuous, mixed and messy descent from a disorderly jumble of languages most of which at some point diverged from a common root (know as PIE, proto-indo-european), and then came back together at different times in different places, and at different speeds... whereas our grammar - our language for describing language - comes more or less directly from Latin.

There is a profound difference between Latin and modern English. A difference so profound that unless you're an author using the grammar check in MSWord, you might never notice it.

In Latin, the Verb is God. In English, Context is Everything.

In Latin, an entire sentence can be contained in a single verb. In Latin the verb is so important that for preference, it is placed at the very end of the sentence, as if to ensure that you have an opportunity to give a fair hearing to all the other words before the verb takes over.

English can function without verbs. Not always. Some verbs can't be left out. "can" is a good example. But notice that I just wrote "not always" as a complete sentence, which it was. A grammarian would say that I elided "it does" - not just the verb, but the subject too.

But calling it "ellipsis" suggests that I'm thinking those words, just not saying or writing them. Nonsense! I'm not thinking them. The ideas that become words somewhere between my thoughts and my fingertips are limited to the core meaning that I want to convey. When I exclaim "nonsense!" I'm thinking "nonsense!" not "that is nonsense!".

In modern English we can, and frequently, manage without verbs. Not to seek or distract attention, but just because we don't always need them. Meaning matters. In modern English, meaning trumps grammar.

In fairness, this is mostly because grammar as a tool for describing language is sometimes not quite up to the task. As a tool for constructing proper syntax, grammar is as much a disaster as trying to construct a heroic fantasy by slavishly building a hero's journey.

In the end, single sentences, and whole stories, come from the same place: a meaning, that you need to communicate to others. A simple message might take a few words. A complex lesson might take a whole story. The meaning of life probably takes a lifetime of reading and writing to communicate.

* In fact, the word 'ellipsis' is often used for when a word or words are left out *cough* by ignorance or accident. This is apologism. Grammarians want to be able to say that it isn't the description that is at fault, but the object being described. I'll leave you to judge for yourself.


The Long War, by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett

Warning: this is not a book review. I won't be telling you the plot or advizing you to read it, or not read it. I expect you already to have read it, or to go and read it, once you've read my analysis.

My summary of this book is as follows:

Lacks any strong narrative oversight, consequently lacks a clear direction.

If you know your Pratchett you will know how unusual and surprising that summary is. It is very difficult to identify a Pratchett title that lacks a clear, focused and determined didactic purpose. Most of his books also include incidental or collateral lessons about being human and how to live a good life.

I've often thought that a driving force behind Pratchett's stories is anger, and it may be that what's missing in The Long War is exactly that; the emotion that always worked for Pterry, that always tied his disparate and incongruous incidental ideas together into a powerful narrative whole was that he wanted his reader to know why he was angry, and want to do something about it.

I have no doubt that The Long War's disparate and incongruous incidental ideas come from Pratchett, and his collaboration with Baxter. But the only mind tying it all together here is Baxter's.

At its worst, and knowing Baxter's own work I don't make this remark lightly, this reads like Pratchett fanfic. There are, for instance, obvious nods to classic SF, but they don't all come through the same way. Baxter spots the obvious parallels with Star Trek and signposts them. He spots the obvious parallels with Henlein and lampshades them. But misses the way that Pratchett (in his earliest work) sneaks in echoes of Bradbury. There's a moment where it looks like Pratchett snuck one under Baxter's prodigious fan-radar, and leads the reader up a path that is so suspiciously similar to Eric Frank Russell's "And Then There Were None" you can almost see Pterry smirking.

It falls apart, when Baxter starts showing up the nods to, and echoes of Pterry's back catalogue.

But that isn't what kills it. In fact it isn't even the lack of story.

It's the lack of cutting.

I work with several SF writers, and the good ones spend a lot of time deep in thought about the practicalities of the way their worlds work. What I call the "fantasy economy" - how do people produce and transport food? How do the distribute resources and information? How do they educate their children? How do they obtain medical care? How do the life support systems actually work?

For every SF or fantasy writer that I have to bawl out for failing to think of these important details, there are 10 who have gone to all the necessary trouble to work out the answers.

And they're the worst. Because they put all the answers in the book.

What really destroys this book is the bloat. It is packed with "hard" SF author notes about how everything works.You could probably cut out a third of the text and it would make no noticeable change to the experience. But worse than this, is the repetition. Details that the reader ALREADY KNOWS are reiterated each time a new character turns up in an already visited situation.

There are two basic rules that I have to throw at writers in all genres and this book breaks them carelessly, liberally, and without any thought to the reader's experience. These rules are divine twins, castor and pollux, two sides to the same coin, of Need to Know:

1. Do not tell the reader anything that the reader does not need to know. This includes anything that the reader can guess, infer or reasonably assume.
2. Do not tell the reader anything that the reader already knows, especially when characters are telling eachother things that they don't all know, but the reader does.

(There is a great deal more I could say about these rules. Narrative Path will probably have to devote whole courses to them.)

Both of these rules are broken so many times in this book that it just isn't a joke.

Baxter can, in his own work, get a little too fond of the effectiveness of his careful hard SF groundwork, but generally curbs it before it gets in the way. I do wonder if he was trying too hard to do justice to the collaboration, and I also wonder if the whole text has been treated with a little too much reverence.


"Trapped" is out! W00t!

I'm really enjoying working on this SF series with M. Terry Green.

Terry's writing is sharp and breathless like the sub-zero world of this series. Even if you don't love it (and you will) you won't be able to put it down.

Typical symptoms of reading Terry's work are:

  • lack of sleep
  • wearing an extra cardigan
  • paranoia


Shooting Actors (in a barrel)

Very few actors have ever been shot.

Setting aside the obvious injustice of this fact, it creates a rather complex problem for the author.You see, when most people imagine someone being shot, they imagine an actor pretending to have been shot.

In effect, in the popular imagination, getting shot looks like this. Actors show the body jerking with each impact, or being flung to the ground. Soldiers and law-enforcement officers (and increasingly, mobile-phone footage) all attest that most people show no physical signs of having been hit until they actually start to bleed, or fall down dead or unconscious. Indeed, most people stay standing until they realize they've been shot.

This makes plenty of physical and physiological sense. A .45 calibre bullet weighs about 15 grams. The average adult male weighs about 90 kilograms. That's 6000 times more. The inertia of the bullet is tiny compared with the inertia of a human body, and the body is (mostly) pretty soft. So a bullet will penetrate without causing any jerking or throwing the person backwards. Not even Dirty Harry's Auto Mag.

The problem for the author is that if you describe getting shot realistically, there are some situations where the reader will think what you have described is unrealistic, because of those damn, dirty, actors.

The below is how I would write a "police incident report" for a book. It bears very little relation to a real police report, which would be more detailed and much less interesting to read. My approach is to imagine how a fellow officer might summarize the report to the Commissioner.

As the suspect ran, he reached behind him, and continued to discharge his weapon, without looking back to aim. At this point, neither Detective Ramirez nor Officer Jones knew whether the suspect had reloaded, or whether this was a second weapon, so they could not tell how many more times the suspect might fire into the busy street. Both officers opened fire. The suspect ran around the corner of the block. When the firing stopped, they proceeded to the corner with caution. Not far beyond the corner, the suspect lay seriously injured, having been struck at least three times by bullets from the weapons of both officers.

Members of the public are always shocked by the number of times that police officers fire their weapons, but the fact is, you can't always tell whether or not you've hit someone. If there's a continuing danger to you or the public, you keep firing.

Because so many people think that: you shoot someone, he staggers and falls, if it happens in a more realistic way, they may find it hard to believe, or shocking or disturbing. It may break immersion. It may even break sympathy with your main character to discover that he's emptying his gun into an attacker rather than trying to take him down with a single, neat, shot.

So you have to balance realism with what people think happens. This sort of narrative lie is a tricky area. If you specifically want to write about the realities of life on the street, then it makes sense to assault all the popular misconceptions. If on the other hand there is only one shooting in the entire book, and the book is not about the realities of lethal firearm usage, you may have to present it the way an actor would: with a jerk, a wilhelm scream, a shudder, a stagger, he clutches his chest and falls to the floor.


Narrative Path Progress

We're out of alpha and gearing up for a full launch some time in the next few weeks. I'll say more when the last tumblers click.

Dense Words blog has been quiet because not only have I been working on the course for Narrative Path, but I've also been writing blog posts for the NP blog.

Once NP is live, I'll be blogging here about my usual editing activities, but much of what I write about writing will be on the NP blog.

Here is a tiny sneak preview of the final Narrative Path logo:

probable NP logo...
pending final acceptance


Kary English wins the grand prize for a short story for "Poseidon's Eyes".

Take a look at Kary's other SF shorts:

Flight of the Kikayon and Totaled


Event Manager needed

IN May, Narrative Path is launching.

Narrative Path is the result of many months of research, study and learning, that results from a conversation I had with one of my wonderful authors. The question he asked was: how can densewords editing be made available to more authors. The problem is twofold: time and cost.

Even story development on a typical novel takes two 90 minute chats and up to ten hours additional time spent analysing and providing advice, help and answers to questions. A full literary edit takes 10 to 20 days.

Development consultation costs anything from $250 upwards and a literary edit on a full length novel anything from $1500 upwards.

But I'm convinced that a lot of what I can teach can be presented in a way that reaches a lot more people. It certainly can't be the same level of personalized help and support that I provide to my writers. But much of what I provide them can be organized in other ways.

Narrative Path is the result of this.

Narrative Path centers around a series of online courses, the first of which is specifically designed to help a new writer through their first book. In addition, there is access to additional resources, such as my edited writer's guide, a book about dealing with the kind of problems that commonly arise during the act of writing a novel. Writers will be able to access more content, such as webinars, lectures and hotseats, exercises and direct access to my development and editing advice, via a continuity program.

All the resources provided through Narrative Path are derived from my core goals: to reach more writers, and to teach writers by teaching writing, not by teaching critical analysis.

In parallel with Narrative Path, I plan to set up some local events. At this time, I haven't yet got a fully realized idea of the form that the events will take. I can envisage anything from panels at conventions, through weekend lectures, weeklong hothouse courses or two week exclusive writers' retreats - and anything else I haven't thought of. I want to do this on both sides of the Atlantic; all parts of North America, and in Europe any suitable venue should be considered.

In setting up Narrative Path, I have a business partner who is dealing with all the stuff that I have no knowledge or time to do - marketing, sales, technical, logistical, etc, in return for a substantial share in the profit. This arrangement also results in my learning a great deal about better communication and presentation of ideas, because we work very closely together on developing the courses and support materials.

For the events, ideally, I would like to do the same. So I'm looking for someone experienced in small-scale event management and promotion, for what is likely to be a long term partnership. I will bring the subject matter expertise, and they will bring the events, promotional and logistical expertise. Just as I like to edit all kinds of books, my events partner need not be specialized in literary, artistic, creative or academic events; if anything, I like working with people from outside my usual milieu as it produces a more creative partnership. Initially I'd like to organize four events for the upcoming months, at least two of which should be in North America.

But I will want to develop ideas for the form, frequency and presentation of these events with my events partner, so at the moment, everything is open to ideas and suggestions.

So if you are interested in this opportunity, or know anyone who you think might be, let me know.

If you want to know more, contact me via this page from my website.


Weird words: Why an escrow isn't an escroc

Working as I occasionally do as a translator of contractual and other legalese documents, I occasionally come across the English word escrow.

It is a noun, defined by my dictionary  as:

a bond, deed, or other document kept in the custody of a third party and taking effect only when a specified condition has been fulfilled.

However this term has a tendency to terrify the French, because there is a French word, escrow which is defined by my dictionary (translated from the French, bien entendu):

person who commits, or is in the habit of committing, confidence tricks or petty fraud.

As I'm sure you can imagine, my French customers hardly want their legal arrangements in any way associated with petty fraud or cons.

So how did two words that are pronounced the same, and written almost the same come to have such widely different meanings?

My French and Italian etymological dictionaries blame eachother, but I tend to go along with the Italian dictionary's assertion that "escroc" is French in origin - but as these thing do, it may well have gone both ways, between the nominal and verbal forms in each language escroc, scrocco, and escroquerie, scroccare respectively.

Either way, the number one suspect is the French word croc, in Old French a hook, in modern French a fang. The prefix e-, es- would therefore suggest 'unhooking' - which suggest a cutpurse or pockpocket, however it may also suggest coin clipping, or some other form of skimming or graft.

As to escrow, my preferred source for English etymology is of course Doug Harper. He has this to say:

1590s, from Anglo-French escrowe, from Old French escroe "scrap, small piece, rag, tatter, single parchment," from a Germanic source akin to Old High German scrot "a scrap, shred, a piece cut off" (see shred (n.)). Originally a deed delivered to a third person until a future condition is satisfied, which led to sense of "deposit held in trust or security" (1888).

It is also probably worth speculating that there may be a connexion with crotte which is closely related to the OHG scrot and which means an animal dropping or other small blob of organic waste.

Either way, how does the taking away or unhooking of a small scrap or fragment, become the setting aside with a trusted third party a deed or sum of money?

With the sources I have available, there is only some very thin speculation, but here is what I think is most plausible:

There is anecdotal evidence, and evidence in historical archives, of documents, in particular title deeds and bills of sale, that have either been cut in half, or have been stamped, and the stamped part cut through, leaving part of the stamp or seal on the two pieces.

Going out on an even thinner limb - maybe at one time, property that was in dispute was literally placed on a hook until ownership was settled?

And another - practically the tip of a leaf, is encrouer which means to attach, hang up or hang a person from a hook, as a means of detaining a condemned prisoner (the meaning is shared with the Italian word incrocare), which suggests a general meaning of 'setting something aside' - but which brings us back to the unwanted criminal associations.

Sometimes you just can't know. Suffice to say that in modern English an escrow is not merely a good guy, but someone universally trusted, while in modern French an escroc might not be a thoroughly bad person, but certainly should not be trusted!


The Prince who was really a Princess

For the new year, a new fairytale, in the classic "tell don't show" style. I've been reading a lot of Andrew Lang's immortal collections recently, and I think the influence is obvious. After some effort, and wading through pages and pages of ridiculous boobplate, I managed to find some images on Pinterest of girls and young women wearing practical armor. Most of them are rather glammed up, though. The hero of my story was raised as a boy, though, so you'd do better just imagining him. Also, this is a first draft, so expect errors. Also I wasn't sure whether or not to give the characters names.


The Prince who was really a Princess

There was an old King, who had a young queen who bore him only daughters. Such was the custom of the time, that should a King wish his daughters to marry, he must part with some of his land, giving it as a gift to whatever Prince might win his daughter's heart. For it was also the unlucky custom of the time that a Princess could only marry a Prince, and Princes, who were raised to rule, would only seek the hand of a Princess whose father could offer them some sizeable territory.

Luckily, the old King had lived a long life, he had been married more than twice, and made a number of conquests, but after the marriage of his twelfth daughter, he began to imagine the borders of his kingdom closing in, and to fear that if he ever did have a son, it would be a sorry small kingdom indeed that he would inherit. So he resolved to have no further children.

A few more years passed, and the King began to feel his great age, and to fear that he had not done his duty to his Kingdom in not providing it with a son to rule it. His wife was still young and beautiful, but if he died, she would be at the mercy of the surrounding Kingdoms which abounded with dukes and princelings, many of whom would pursue her to marry her for her Kingdom, and many others who would simply take it with an army.

He resolved to try one final time to have a son. He told himself that if it was a daughter, he would choose the Prince to marry her, announcing it to all the world, so that he would at least be able to name his heir. And if a son, so much the better. However, he failed to tell this to his wife.

When the child was born, it was, as all the others had been, a girl. Beautiful, strong and bonny, but a source only of grief to her mother who so loved the old King that she swore the midwife to secrecy, and had it announced that she had at last borne a son.

There was much feasting and rejoicing.

The young prince, who was really a princess, grew up healthy and strong on a diet of good meat and fresh air. Every weekday he, who was really a she, learned his letters, studied statecraft and warcraft in the mornings, and horsemanship and swordsmanship in the afternoon, manners, charm and cheer in the evenings; on Saturdays he, who was really a she, rode with the hunt or did falconing, and on Sundays gave alms to the poor, and studied piety.

The King provided the finest teachers, trainers and tutors in the land. And if any of them discovered the Prince's secret, none of them revealed it.

Now it so happened that the King's eldest daughter had married a bad Prince named Hasba. He had recently become King of his own Kingdom, and had begun to turn his greedy eyes to the Kingdoms around him. Greedy King Hasba had already enlarged his kindom several times over, through clever politics, through extortion, and through war, until it almost completely surrounded the Old King's lands.

The Old King died when the Prince, who was really a princess, was fourteen years old. Handsome and strong, but not yet in his majority. Before there was a chance to crown him, however, Greedy King Hasba invaded with a great army.

The only person who was ready was the Queen, for she had been warned in a letter from her eldest daughter, who although almost as greedy as her husband, had felt a few mild pangs of guilt when she learned of his plans.

Very early one morning, the Queen came to the Prince's chamber, bade him rouse and clothe himself; the Queen took a small purse of gold, and the Prince, who was really a princess, took a small gold ring. With the sound and clamour of war approaching, they stole away on swift horses, into the great forest that bordered the Kingdom.

They didn't have time to bring much more than their clothes with them, and soon they were lost, cold and hungry.

It began to grow dark, but just as they were beginning to lose hope, they came upon a large house in a clearing.

"This will surely be the den of some Bandits," said the Queen, but the Prince, who was really a princess, insisted that they must find warmth and shelter, and risk what they must within.

To their surprise, the house seemed to be recently deserted, for though there was a fire in the hearth and food and drink on the table, with torches and candles lit about the place, they could find no sign of any people.

They resolved to eat their fill, and should someone come, they would give them a little from their small purse of gold.

Finding a small bedroom, they slept well, although the Prince had to rise twice in the night to feed the fire. In the morning there was still no sign of the house's owners, but the day had dawned bright and clear, so the Prince went outside to prepare the horses.

The horses were nowhere to be seen. Outside the house was a small clearing, completely and tightly enclosed by the forest, with no sign of road or path or trackway.

There was some magic or mischief afoot, but the Prince did not want to alarm the Queen. Returning to the cottage he told her that she should take some breakfast, while he scouted the path, to find a proper route through the forest.

The Prince, who was really a Princess, hadn't ventured far into the forest when he heard an unruly commotion behind him, and at once hurried back to the house. On the lawn was a group of a hundred  fat black ponies, and from within there came the noise of revelry and carousing.

The Prince crept to a window and saw to his horror that the house was indeed occupied by bandits, who on discovering the Queen had apparently pressed her to all sorts of indignities, and the Prince watched as she hurried from place to place, serving the Bandits their dinner, and suffering their harsh words and rough hands.

Though strong, and well taught and well practiced, the Prince knew well that he had not the strength or skill to confront a hundred bandits, so resolved to seek help where he might find it.

The Prince hurried off through the forest, careless of wild beasts or pursuit, since haste could be the only deliverance of his unfortunate mother.

At length, he came to another clearing. All around the clearing were stalls and stands, as if for a village market, and gay flags and bunting hung from the trees. But all was not gay and cheerful, for among the flags and pennants were also the corpses of crows and butchered rats. The strangest of the spectacle was that although the stalls seemed to have been set up only that morning, there was no sign of any sellers.

As the Prince, who was really a Princess, crept into the centre of the clearing, a strange music started up, and he spied a movement from one of the stalls. The stall itself was bedecked with many wonders. Boxes of jewels and gems overflowed; fine silks were draped across beautiful tapestries and lace as fine as frost. Gowns and dresses from far corners of the world, boots and shoes of surpassing workmanship and a bridle of dragonskin. In the centre sparkled a remarkable breastplate that shone with the light of a thousand suns, and across it lay a sword so sharp that the very air seemed to be cut into blue light around it.

From behind the stall came a strange dancing figure, draped in a hooded robe of midnight black. The figure danced and turned  in the strange music, until finally stopping before the Prince, and revealing her face.

She seemed to be a woman of great age, but her age did not seem to have affected the agility and strength of her body, nor the beauty of her voice when she spoke, with an elegant calm.

"Young Prince, what gift do you bring me, that I may aid you in your quest?"

The Prince, who was really a Princess, understood at once that this was an ensorcelled clearing, and the woman a hag or witch, and that he might find some aid, but as likely there would be some trap or terrible bargain to be struck.

"I have nothing of value but my little gold ring and my secret," said the Prince, "And neither are of much value since I no longer have a kingdom to be Prince of. But I must find a means to rescue my mother from the clutches of cruel bandits, and I will repay any aid by whatever means is demanded."

"A pretty speech young Prince," said the hag, "And I have much that may help you." She led him to her stall, and showed him the many objects of great magic.

"Here is the gown of Loltha. Any man who wears it is transformed into beautiful woman, and it is beyond the means of any divination to see through the disguise. Here is the bridle of the Dragon King, which when the magic words 'Awake my steed' are spoken will summon the Dragon Horse, that can be ridden to the ends of the World and back untiring. Here are the shoes of Queen Abtath, that will make any woman the greatest dancer in all the world, and here are the boots of Ironsmith Wild that give the strength to carry any load. This is the sword and breastplate of the Angel of Silver. It is said that the sword will cut anything and the breastplate protects from all harm…" and so she went on, until the Prince was dizzy with all the great magics and how any one of the least of them would be enough to help him to defeat the bandits.

"Now my young Prince," the hag continued, "my price is very small. I will not ask your small ring or your small secret, since you have nothing else. Give me but what I ask, and in return I will give you the magical gift that will most aid you in your quest."

"Ask what you will," the Prince, who was really a Princess, replied with all the manner and charm that he had been taught, "and if it is in my power to give, I will give it."

Of course, the hag was up to no good. She herself possessed a powerful charm. She made the same promises to anyone who passed her way, and as soon as she used the  charm, they were in her power, and she would take all that they had, and send them naked into the forest to be devoured by the wild beasts.

"All you need do is give me one kiss upon my lips, to show that in spite of my great age, you, a young man, will show that my beauty is still great."

This did not seem too high a price to the Prince, even though it seemed a little vain. He assented and kissed her.

The hag's charm was that any man who kissed her fell at once under her spell, and she did not hesitate to boast and crow.

"And now," the hag shouted, "as all men, you are in my power, and will give me all that you have, and go naked into the forest, there to be killed and devoured by wild beasts."

But the Prince was not a man, but a Princess, and the hag's charm had no power over him. All at once he snatched up the glittering sword, and struck off the hag's head with a single blow.

The hag's body transformed into a pile of a thousand frogs, that hopped off in all directions, leaving nothing but her midnight black robes and her strange charm. The Prince felt that the charm was probably wicked, and struck it with the sword, shattering it to dust.

The Prince at once fell to looking over the various objects of great magic on the hag's stall. He put on the breastplate of the Angel of Silver and buckled on the sword. He pulled on the boots of Ironsmith Wild, and took up the Dragon King's bridle, saying at once the magic words.

Fortunately, the Dragon Horse, fiery eyed and ill-tempered though it was, had magical saddle bags. Most of the hag's magical hoard was unidentified and unlabelled, so the Prince, who was really a princess, took only what the hag had already described, and added to this a few small items that did have labels, such as a Bottle of Everpure water and  a Key of All Locks, and other sundries of improbable usefulness, that the Prince supposed he would probably be able to sell for a King's ransom and hence buy himself a King's Kingdom.

The Prince sprang easily into the saddle, and bade the horse gallop with all speed to the bandit's house.

His arrival in the clearing on a tall black dragonskinned horse with fiery eyes did not go unnoticed. The Bandits, who were well fed and a little the worse for drink, climbed onto their fat black ponies and charged at the Prince, all at once.

The Dragon Horse was deft and agile, and dodged here and there, so that the Bandit's arrows flew wide and hallebards fell through empty air. As the Dragon Horse dodged about beneath him, the Prince, who was really a Princess, swung stabbed and chopped with the Sword of the Angel of Silver that was so sharp that it cut the air into blue and green fire around it. Soon, ninety-nine bandits lay dead.

The Prince jumped out of the saddle, and ran into the house.

The Chief Bandit sat, careless of all danger, in a large chair by the fire, a mug of ale in one hand, and the Queen, looking a little flushed and tired but largely unharmed, sitting on his knee.

"Let go my royal mother and prepare to defend yourself!" the Prince shouted a clear challenge, as he had been taught to do.

The Chief Bandit rose lazily to his feet.

"My dear boy," he said, " You clearly know how to fight well, and I doubt I could catch you if you ran. But fight me and you will surely die, since one must die and it cannot be me. On the day I was born I was dipped in the River of War and wet from head to foot, so not even an ankle was not touched by the strange water. It was prophesied that no man could ever harm me."

But the Prince was not a man, but a Princess, and the Chief Bandit's geas could not affect him. He drew his sword and struck off the Chief Bandit's head with a single blow.

The Queen was overjoyed to see the Prince safe and sound, and even more so when the Prince related his adventures.

"With all these magics," said the Queen, "you will be able to take back the Kingdom that is rightfully yours. But although a Prince you seem, you are a Princess, and a Princess cannot have a Kingdom without a Prince. Luckily, I heard the Bandits speak of a young and foolish Prince held captive by a Troll just beyond the mountain to the south. If you free him, he will surely help you win back your Kingdom."

The Prince, who was really a Princess, had been hoping one day to become a King who was really a Queen, but did not doubt the wisdom of his mother's words.

They gathered provisions and loaded up the magic saddle-bags of the Dragon Horse. The Dragon Horse was so large that it could easily carry both of them, and the Prince bade the horse take them to the cave of the Troll that lived beyond the mountain to the south.

It so happened that a kindly Duke lived in a tower not far from the cave, and he agreed to lodge the Queen while the Prince, who was really a Princess, continued his quest.

The path up to the Troll's cave was strewn with rocks and boulders and also strewn with skeletons of men, none of which had feet.

The Prince was nearly at the top of the path when a mighty voice rang out in mighty challenge.
"Who approaches the cave of the Mighty Ghroll?"

Tall as five men, with three heads and seven arms, the Mighty Ghroll stood before the cave, menace on all three of his countenances.

Remembering the importance of truth and politeness, the Prince, who was really a Princess, replied, a little awkwardly.

"I am a poor Prince who has lost his Kingdom, and have come to rescue . . . another Prince, who I hope will aid me in my quest. Will you release him or shall I have to fight or make ransom?"

The Troll was a little taken aback by the Prince's honesty and politeness, but it was his custom to make adventurers fulfil strange and impossible tasks in order to win his favour.

"Very well," said the Troll with a wry smile, "You need only complete one challenge and I will allow you to free the other Prince. Follow."

The Troll walked into the cave, and the Prince, who was really a Princess, had to run to keep up, having only normal sized legs. Deep in the mountain, the tunnel expanded, into a vast empty room with a floor of polished red granite, and lit like a ballroom by ten thousand candles. In the middle of the floor stood a man made entirely of brass, dressed in a brass tailcoat with a brass rose in his buttonhole and brass dancing shoes.

"Your challenge," said the Troll, "is to dance with the Dancing Man until he tires."

The Prince at once turned and ran from the cave, and the Troll stared after him, the wry smile turned to surprise on two of his three faces, but the third face also turned to surprise as they heard the sound of feet hurrying back into the cave.

The Prince, of course, had run to the Dragon Horse to fetch the shoes of Queen Abtath, which fit him especially well, since he was really a Princess.

Without another word, the Prince took the hand of the Dancing Man, and placed another hand carefully upon his waist, and an unseen orchestra struck up.

For many hours they danced. The Dancing Man was an excellent partner, and since the Prince had been taught to dance as a man, graciously allowed him to lead. The Dancing Man's brass shoes struck occasional sparks as the shoes of Queen Abtath glid and flew across the granite floor, and never before had the Troll's six eyes beheld such a spectacle. Hours turned into days and days to weeks until, one morning, the Dancing Man's hips gave the smallest creak, and he suddenly stopped still, to dance no more.

By now, the Troll was not surprised. Two of his heads had begun to suspect some sort of sorcery after the third day, and the third head had begun to expect that they Prince would succeed after the first week. So all the rest of the while they had been trying to think of ways to keep their bargain and get revenge for having lost the pleasure of cutting off the Prince's feet (as they would have done).

"Now," said the Prince, still full of vigour, "you promised to allow me to free the other Prince."
"I did," said the Troll, adding gleefully, "so go and free him. If you can."

The Prince, who was really a Princess, ran off into the Troll's dungeon to seek the imprisoned Prince. Eventually, he heard the prisoner's mournful cries, and sought him out, in a deep, dark pit.

He was bound and weighed down with heavy chains, was thin, unshaven, filthy, his eyes sad and piteous as his mournful cries.

"Now, " said the Prince who was really a Princess, "cease your complaining, for I have come to rescue you."

"It is hopeless," the imprisoned Prince replied, "for the chains of the Troll are cursed. All who seek to free me and cannot are themselves enchained, by the ankles, and the Troll cuts off their feet to remove and eat them."

"But the others who have tried did not have a Key of All Locks," the Prince who was really a Princess replied, producing it with a flourish. However, he soon discovered that even the Key of All Locks was of no use, since the imprisoned Prince's chains had no keyhole.

The imprisoned Prince nodded resignedly, but the Prince who was really a Princess remembered his lessons, and did not give up so easily. He drew out the Sword of the Angel of Silver, and cut through the chains as easily as through a loaf of bread.

But as they fell away from the wrists and ankles of the imprisoned Prince, he saw to his dismay a strange transformation take place, for the curse of the chains was such that they made woman appear to be man, so before his eyes the imprisoned Prince became a beautiful Princess. The rescued Princess was so grateful that she showered the Prince who was really a Princess with embraces and kisses, and was surprised at his apparent lack of joy at this development.

"Come," said at length the Prince who was really a Princess, "let us escape this dungeon and take council with my Mother and her new friend the kindly Duke." So saying, He took up the broken manacles of the cursed chain and placed them in his sack, explaining to the rescued Princess that he collected all he could that was magical.

On arrival in the great ballroom under the mountain, they saw that the Troll waxed with anger, and at once threw itself upon the Prince who was really a Princess, intent on rending him limb from limb. But the claws of his seven hands skidded across the breastplate of the Angel of Silver and the fangs of his three mouths found no purchase anywhere on the Prince's body as long as he wore the armour.

The Prince who was really a Princess drew his glittering sword and struck off two of the Troll's heads, which tumbled away across the polished red granite, cursing and spitting as they went. The Troll hesitated.

The Prince remembered his lessons in piety, and declared, "I can yet be merciful if you will promise to mend your ways and let us go in peace."

In fear for his immortal life, the Troll promised that henceforth he would waylay and imprison only the wicked, and so the Prince who was really a Princess and the rescued Princess went back up the tunnel to the entrance of the cave, where the Dragon Horse waited to bring them safely back to the tower of the Kindly Duke.

The Kindly Duke was overjoyed to see that the Prince had rescued a Princess, and was confused as to why the Queen seemed less happy about it.

The rescued Princess was, for her part, deeply enamoured of her rescuer, though she realized, of course, that they could not be married until the Prince had reclaimed his Kingdom.

"My father," said the rescued Princess, "is King of Araby, and will surely provide you with a mighty army with which to reconquer your Kingdom."

Upon hearing this, the Queen resolved that it was best that the Prince, who was really a Princess, should continue to appear to be a Prince, if this was a safe means of obtaining an army.

The next day, the Prince who was really a Princess, and the rescued Princess, took their leave of the Kindly Duke, and set off upon the Dragon Horse for Araby.

Many would have been their adventures upon that long road, had it not been for the swiftness of the steed of the Dragon King. But as it was, before long and without incident, they were received a the tented palace of the King of Araby, who wept for joy at the sight of his lost daughter, and the handsome and noble young Prince who had delivered her.

The Prince who was really a Princess told the King of Araby the sad tale of the loss of his father's Kingdom, and the King of Araby at once declared that he would bestow upon him one of his nine armies of Djinn, that he could reclaim his Kingdom.

This was good fortune indeed, since it was a long road back to the North, and no ordinary army could keep pace with the Dragon Horse. But any one of the Nine Armies of Djinn was fast enough to arrive in advance.

And so it was that a mere few days later, the young Queen and the Kindly Duke, the Prince who was really a Princess, and the rescued Princess, and the Dragon Horse, and the great host of one of the King of Araby's Nine Armies of Djinn, stood at the edge of the great forest that encircled the Kingdom.

Emissaries were sent to the Queen's eldest daughter, begging that she prepare for sudden invasion and reconquest, but the eldest daughter sent back a message that filled all with dismay.

The Greedy King, the message said, possessed a magic throne, and once he had sat upon the throne in any Kingdom, no man could take it from him, neither through force of arms, nor subterfuge, nor by theft nor by process of law.

"Well," said the Prince who was really a Princess, who read the wording of the magic with great care, "that's convenient."

"I for one," replied the Queen with a conspiratorial nod, "am beginning to see a pattern."

The Prince who was really a Princess rode out at the head of his great army, the rescued Princess at his side, and was met upon the official field of battle by the Greedy King and his Wife, with their great army.

The Greedy King was not concerned by the Prince's Dragon Steed, not his glittering breastplate and shining sword, nor by his magic boots, nor even by the thousands of Djinn who stood, screaming, behind him. He sat, complacent upon his magic throne, that was borne on a bier by ten huge slaves.
Now the Greedy King's wife was, after all, the Prince who was really a Princess's sister, so he didn't feel altogether right about just striking the Greedy King's head off with a single blow. So, as was the custom, they met alone between their two armies, and the Prince who was really a Princess bent close to the Greedy King, and whispered his secret in the Greedy King's ear.

Upon hearing the secret, the Greedy King looked again at the Dragon Horse, he looked again at the glittering breastplate and the magic boots, and the shining sword that cut the very air into blue fire, at the vast army of screaming Djinn, one of the King of Araby's Nine armies, and grew suddenly rather pale.

"Now," said the Prince, "I suggest you take your Magic Throne and your army, and you leave my Kingdom never to return, and in return I will tell noone the secret of your vulnerability."

The Greedy King made no reply, but instead departed at once for his own Kingdom, and indeed handed over several other Kingdoms to the Prince who was really a Princess, in the hope that no longer surrounded, the Prince would be more likely to keep his promise.

The young Queen and the Kindly Duke were at once summoned, and preparations were made for the Prince's coronation.

It was, of course, the expectation of every subject that the Prince would marry the rescued Princess, so the Prince, who was really a Princess, felt that it was only fair to reveal his secret to her, also. At first she was downcast, because even if they kept the secret, they could still never have an heir. But the Prince pointed out that this was really of little concern, since they had magical chains that could make any woman into a man, and a magical gown that could make any man into a woman, and all manner of other magical objects and trinkets besides, so they could do much as they wanted.

The Prince who was really a Princess was crowned King who is really a Queen, and he married the rescued Princess and they lived long and happy lives. And she bore him several sons and daughters, and in his turn, he bore her several sons and daughters, since it didn't much matter which of them wore the chains. And of their many sons, some were probably really daughters, and of their many daughters, some were probably really sons. It hardly really matters.Hhag