15 Websites for Writers

Writers Logo

What is writing?

Some say, it’s merely the act of putting information into a textual format so as to be understood by another. Do you agree? I’ve always wondered, could it be more? Is it not the coming together of two minds, one active and one passive, as ideas and images are exchanged through the power of words?

It could be time travel, as claimed by Stephen King. Words are bridges from one mind to another, and their power is locked in books in a suspended animation, a lexical and semantic cryogenics that spans the ages.

What of the thoughts of writing as an art form? Tapping the human condition, are those lucky enough to tap the multi-verse of enlightened wit, pomp and vernacular; our writer-come-guides.

But are writers travellers, hiking through the jungle of their imagination? Or are they more wizards, conjuring from nothing? Some might even argue they are alchemists, forging golden words from seemingly worthless parts.

At the moment, the jury is out.

Regardless of your opinion of what makes a writer, do you believe it is possible for anyone to access the vastness of the creative mind and reproduce it in words on a page? I’m an idealist, and a believer in the idea we all originate from one great consciousness. Why shouldn’t artistic ability be a shared trait? Sure, some can alienate their natural talent with distractions and different motivations, but we all ultimately emerged from the same awareness of reality. Why can’t we all be scribes, scribblers and scratchers of the itch?

Whether you write for fun, write for profit, or write because to not write would be akin to stopping breathing or quitting eating, here’s some websites and blogs guaranteed to give you help on your creative journey, from inspiration to tips, grammar help and guides on how to get published!

broad focus

The Write Life

As the tagline of the site itself says “Helping writers create, connect and earn”. Providing a ton of aid to any writer lost in the vastness of the written world, you can expect to find a veritable Santa’s sack of useful information covering literally every aspect of the life of a writer.

Writing.com

A website with 15 years of experience bringing writers together. It’s packed to bursting with tools and opportunities for writers of all levels, from amateur to pro. It acts as a place for established writers to hawk their wares, and for avid readers to seek out the next big thing too, giving it an extra edge on similar help based websites.

Writer’s Digest

Speaking of experience, these folks bring over 90 years of experience creating tools for writers. This website offers a wide range of tools and help for writers of all levels, and is especially useful as the tips are industry specific, with tips and short cuts on all aspects of the publishing and writing world from those who know.

Daily Writing Tips

A great site that offers daily inspiration for all your writing needs, from spelling to punctuation, and from vocabulary to grammar. It also boasts its fair share of prompts and stimuli too.

fiction

Chuck Wendig

TerribleMinds.com is one of my favourite fiction writer websites. The author himself has various published books, and offers some free short stories on his site for you to check out. In terms of tips, his regular blog has many alternative approaches to common writerly questions, but it is the community and flash fiction challenges that really set him apart.

Fiction Notes

Experienced author, publisher and writing coach Darcy Pattison offers a wonderful platform for fiction writers giving extremely helpful blog posts aimed specifically at those putting together their writing. I find her approach to writing both meticulous and methodical, and she does not disappoint either with her approach to writing structure and the drafting process. Offering a very focused and direct view of writing with clear, concise models for you to emulate on your creative journey, it can help you to re-evaluate finished writing, or start off new projects with a much clearer idea in your head. Check out this post on Finding Your Novel Opening and then take it from there.

industry experience

The Renegade Writer

The whole ethos of this website, established by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, is to empower you to live the freelance writer lifestyle on your terms, offering tips and tricks from inside the game.

Jane Friedman

Having over 15 years of experience in the publishing industry, Jane Friedman brings a wealth of expertise to her website, which boasts a blog offering veritable tit-bits of insider knowledge and industry know-how. If you’re trying to get published, or are new to the writer’s life, she’s a great starting point.

published

Writer’s Relief

A great site offering you help with how to submit to publishers. This covers the whole process, from start to finish, and for all levels from short poems and prose to 1,000 page epics. There is also a handy section on book design and e-books, both very useful for those looking to self-publish.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (1st-30th of November) is an annual opportunity for writers from all walks of life to come together and try to bash out a first draft of a novel in a short space of time.

As well as daily motivation and a supportive community of other writers, you will find a wealth of inspiration and information for your writing in their blog. There are also links to help you with what to do after you’ve finished your story, such as publishing and editing help.

prompts and practice

The Write Practice

The emphasis here is on guided practice making perfect. Posts from an assortment of different regular and guest contributors keep the content interesting and varied, and you’ll be hard pressed not to find something here that you can take away with you. Each post is followed by a relevant prompt focused on a sustained writing practice of about 10-15 minutes, with a thriving comments section for scribblers to share their work.

Write To Done

A wonderful site giving budding writers myriad posts to help you learn new skills in writing, and then relevant tasks to help you practice what you’ve learned.

As the Chief Writer Mary Jaksch puts it, “Write to Done is about learning to write better.

grammar

Grammarly

One of my favourite sites to use for checking niggling grammar queries and vocabulary expansion, but also offering a citation suggestion tool, all from it’s rather unique text checker. I discovered it while looking for a plagiarism checking service while marking my students’; another great feature!

Grammar Girl

If you’ve ever found yourself longing for a user friendly website that can cater for all your grammar, word use and punctuation queries, this is it. Chocka-block with helpful info presented in a captivating and concise layout, I thoroughly recommend this site for the budding grammarian!

online

Copyblogger

As Copyblogger says of itself:

“Since January 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content. Not bland corporate crap created to fill up a company webpage. Valuable information that attracts attention, drives traffic, and builds your business.”

If your writing needs are of a digital nature, and popularity/traffic/content are your buzzwords, you’d be hard pressed to top this site.

stock images

Not found anything you like? Check out this post on TheWriteLife.com that offers the 100 best websites for writers. If there is a site you know of that is just dying to be on this list, please let us know in the comments below!

Special thanks to stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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13 Tips for Smashing Writer’s Block

Writer's Block title

You know those moments when you finally get to sit down at your laptop/writing pad/typewriter/chisel and tablet, and you’re so excited to start writing. I mean, it’s coursing through your veins while you try so hard to put it on the page, but then…. nothing.

It’s stressful. The emptiness seems so barren and devoid of life and so empty – purgatory of the page!

It can happen to anyone. Hell, it does happen to everyone! Writer’s or not, we all find ourselves stuck for creativity sometimes. Whether you’re Jones trying to close the Wang account, or the city council trying to think of new ways to encourage recycling, creativity can be a cruel mistress.

That said, it doesn’t have to control you. Blocks are often formed from fears; the fear of failure, of not being good enough, or of not knowing where you are going. Well I say smite that fear! Smite it until it is smitten! Or rather, harness that energy and flip it into something else.

Like any obstacle, it can be beaten, nay destroyed!

I smite thee!

I smite thee!

Switch Subjects

Changing tac is a great way to take some pressure off of you and give your brain a chance to switch gears. Are you a fan of ancient Greek History? Why not summarise a favourite passage of text regarding an aspect of that part of history. If you’re struggling to write a sci-fi story, why not try writing a quick horror piece instead?

The idea is to trick your brain. It will either see how hard something else is and settle into your original topic much easier, or by getting a start on writing something else, you can switch back to the original topic and watch the words flow!

Behold the power of my words!

Behold; the power of my words!

Flex

This can be anything from taking a walk to 100 stomach crunches. The trick is to do something that gets the blood pumping and forces you to focus on something else for a while. Kurt Vonnegut liked to do exercises like push ups and sit ups during his writing time so as to keep himself disciplined. Many authors preach the benefits of yoga on focusing the mind and getting the blood flowing.

According to TheTelegraph.com, Dan Brown likes to hang himself upside down from gravity boots! Go ahead, try it. We’ll wait.

In the end, you just want to find something that gets you moving. Anything. Fencing, amateur gymnastic, pole vault or even sex, find a way of getting your heart rate up.

“Writing really takes it out of you”

Do Something Dull

Wash the dishes, brush your hair, feed the cat, clean the fan, polish your shoes… it could be anything, so long as it’s dull and it’s easy. Some of the best ideas seem to come when you’re in the shower, as that is when your brain runs on autopilot and you can focus on being a little creative, just like the above tasks!

Obviously, don't over do it and bore yourself!

“This is how I get all my best ideas”

Get Your Hobby On

You must find something to do that isn’t linked to writing or reading. I know, I know. What else is there, right? You might enjoy carpentry (or simple whittling), kazoo, lion taming or LARPing. Whatever brings you joy outside of the world of words offers you a great break from your writing, and you should come back refreshed and revitalised, perhaps even with a fresh perspective and a ton of new ideas.

“As long as it’s gnarly, bro”

Change the Timings

Sometimes, it can be a simple matter of trying to write at the wrong time. I am a personal fan of the morning write, and many great authors were too. Hemingway used to believe that writing was the most important task of the day, and should therefore be done first, often rising as early as 5am. Of course, maybe your schedule requires a late night write, or afternoon scribbles. Change it up, check the results.

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Freestyle

Literally, write anything. Write new words, structure sentences so they become nonsense, hit the keyboard with different parts of your body and see what words are formed. This is a great way to give you a feeling of comfort and familiarity at the keys, but also so you can see an empty page fill up (and remember that feeling of progress).

I normally sit and write out everything in my head for fifteen minutes straight, and then delete it. Once I’ve cleared the pipes of the mould and mildew, I’m ready for the good stuff to flow!

Plumb the depths of your creativity... (ok, no more puns)

Plumb the depths of your creativity… (ok, no more puns)

Get Superstitious, Baby!

Now, I’m not talking about blood sacrifice or chanting (though, by all means, I’m open to creative approaches to superstition too), but something a little smaller, such as wearing your lucky shorts or drinking a certain drink. According to TheTelegraph.com:

“Some writers find that they can only write in particular circumstances. Philip Pullman needs a ballpoint pen and lined A4 paper with two holes in it. Two. Not Four. Stephen King on the other hand starts his day with vitamins and tea before sitting down to write at exactly 8am. He needs to have the papers on his desk arranged in precisely the same way.”

Sometimes we can train ourselves to be most productive by giving ourselves certain mental cues. It can’t hurt to try.

Whatever gets you in the zone

Whatever gets you in the zone

Read, read, read (and read)

Like an apprentice sculptor watching a master at work, you will get better just by being around such greats. Bury your nose in some classics, or churn through some schlock rubbish; it all matters. Read what you love, read what you hate. Read books by men, by women and by children. Read books about cats and books about dragons. Read in your genre and outside it. Read fiction and non-fiction. Everything will make you a batter writer. Everything. Whether it’s the instinct inside you to try to emulate the legends, or just an annoyance at a story written so poorly it hurts, you will find some form of fuel in there that will help your writing grow.

“See Emma, Gandalf does die”

Copywork

Why stop at reading, when you can full on plagiarise! We wrote before (here) about the benefits of using copywork as a warm up exercise before writing, but it can also be a fruitful way of battling writer’s block.

Essentially, you just copy parts of other’s work (making it gradually more difficult by forcing yourself to remember greater and greater amounts) and see how your remembered sentences compare to that of the original author. Some say it’s outdated, some say it’s fantastic. Whatever the case, it definitely gets you writing! Just don’t actually use other people’s work in your writing as that is stealing!

“Huh?”

Try Short Prompts

Sometimes, writer’s block comes from a place of intimidation at the overwhelming size of a task ahead of you. So start small. Give yourself little prompts that shouldn’t take you more than five minutes. You should write solidly for a short period of time, and then read back through. Some ideas:

  • What went through your mother’s head when she found out she was pregnant with you
  • Explain the colour red to an alien
  • Describe a photograph you have
  • Talk about a time you did something scary
  • Describe the ending of your favourite film

There are lots for you to choose from. WordPress has it’s own Daily Prompt site here, or even this one at Writer’s Digest. For those on Twitter, a simple search will bring up hundreds (literally) of writing prompt accounts to follow.

“I’ll give you writer’s block!”

Look Back

That’s right, stand on the precipice of writer’s block and turn back to look for work from your past. Stare into the eyes of old characters you have and immerse yourself in old scenes you’ve written. Sometimes it can be a cringefest to rummage through writing from your younger years, but sometimes this writing can give you a wealth of stimulus for new scratching. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start editing as you go and voila – you’re writing again! You never know what you’ll find…

“Monsters, Magic and Twinkies”

Change the Setting

I have a writing area set up in my apartment, while some writers prefer the company of others and so set up shop in a cafe or library. Wherever you write, perhaps experiment with writing in an unfamiliar location that has many aspects that are opposite to where you sit now. In fact, just simply not sitting might do you the world of good. You could try converting your desk into a standing desk, as sitting is actually really bad for us. The Art of Manliness has a great post here on how to set this up properly.

“I always stand when I create!”

Wander in Wonderment

This could be in a bookshop, in a library, a museum or even just your local community centre. They key is, you want to go somewhere that has an energy and also a little ambiance, and can give you the chance to occupy your mind with casual browsing.

After you’ve wandered for a time, you should start to feel ideas coming back to you. If this doesn’t happen, perhaps be a little more forceful with yourself and start to look for ideas. The bad ones may come thick and fast at first, but wading through these you will always lead to something better that you can build on. Challenge yourself to have five to ten new ideas before you are allowed to leave. If you really enjoy yourself, perhaps flesh them out with more detail (a character’s appearance, a hero’s monologue, a villain’s trait).

“How many good ideas I’ve had this week”

There are myriad things to try of course, so above is not supposed to be a definitive list of them all. What do you try? I have a friend who is obsessed with silence, and so uses ‘pink noise’ (like white noise but a lower frequency) recordings on YouTube to block her ears. I have another friend who believes in caffeine as the paramount stimulus, and so doesn’t even think about writing before having three cups of coffee…

Special thanks to Ambro, Apolonia, Chaiwat, criminalatt, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, phasinphoto, photostock, porbital, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future V; Fluidity

title

As most of you regular Itchers will know, recently on IQ we have taken a special interest in the role of gender in the modern world, and how stereotypes and ideas about gender expression are changing in our modern world.

In part 1 we looked at the expectations we place on each other to conform to pre-determined rules about engagement between the sexes, and how we are expected to uphold our gender roles through our behaviour and our activity.

In part 2 the focus was more about what the gender roles are, and how they define what we are ‘allowed’ to be in terms of gender conformity.

Part 3 took a closer look at how appearance has defined gender, and how this is changing now.

In part 4 we looked at the pitfalls of a world obsessed with labels, and how this can be detrimental to gender expression and realisation.

In this final part we will be looking at how some people can change aspects of themselves so as to realign with another gender and realise an existence that reflects how they feel inside. This state is known as gender dysphoria, and though it is becoming more well documented, there is still a lot of confusion around what it represents. A broader term to describe those who identify as the other, neither or both genders would be gender nonconforming, and those who identify as the latter two may also refer to themselves as genderqueer. For more information on the different terms and also more information about gender dysphoria, there is a wonderful explanation here on WebMD.com.

“Never mind male or female; there’s a skeleton living inside you…!”

What are your options?

Ok, so if you do believe that you are born in a different body to the gender you feel, what can you do about it? For a full blown life change, the steps are myriad and often expensive. You will need to start to find peace in yourself, and then share your realisation with your loved ones. After this, it is important to find a therapist to give you the mental support you will inevitably need to work through how this will change your life and to also give you help with the commonly associated distress, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or restlessness, and then start to look into hormone replacement therapy. This is also a good time to consider changing your name and living as the gender you feel. Eventually you will reach a point where surgery is necessary, and from there you can change your legal gender status, finally making it 100% official that your full transition from a to b is complete.

Sounds easy, right? Of course not. And this list doesn’t reflect the various pitfalls and monsters lying in wake to disrupt your progress, such as ignorance, abuse, bullying, financial implications, societal stigmas, hardcore traditionalists and non-accepting loved ones. For more information, Transsexual Road Map has a much more detailed version of the list above.

Imagine going through all that just to get to a stage where you feel you can truly be yourself! I tip my hate to everyone who is doing, has done, or will do this. It must take a lot of strength.

“Dig deep and find the strength within”

Imagination Station

If you are someone who feels you were born in the wrong body, what would you do? Imagine you’re a little girl. You’re given toys to play with like brushes and dolls, and dressed all the time in pink. But you want to play with the boys, and their soldiers and toy cars. You tell your parents and they laugh, saying ‘no sweetie, girls play with dolls’.

When you start school, the other girls all want to sing songs and comb each others hair, but you want to play football and climb trees. You walk over to the circle where the boys are playing and they all stare. ‘Can I play?’ you ask. ‘No girls allowed’ they shout. Ok…

Now it’s high school and puberty has hit you. Your body is changing in lots of strange ways, but you’ve learned enough about the world to know that you are a boy, not a girl. You know that the only thing that stops you from being a boy is biology. You dress in ‘boys’ clothes, and think and act like one. Literally the only thing that makes you female is your anatomical design. What kind of problems do you anticipate facing? Obviously, there will be the non-acceptance from some strangers, and from the uneducated, naive or ignorant. You will probably by this point have built up quite a thick skin to the sniggers and comments due to the fact you are happier being true to your gender identity than being friends with everyone you ever meet. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who didn’t get it anyway. You couldn’t be…

“Later, hater”

The Reality of Normality

A story about this appeared in BuzzFeed news recently, in an article titled Teen Sues School District In Potentially Key Federal Case For Transgender Restroom Rights.

It’s a story about a transgender boy named Gavin Grimm, 16, a resident of Gloucester County, Virginia, in the United States.

The problem he had is essentially this: “Put simply, Grimm was banned from the boys room — where he had been using the restroom without incident for seven weeks with his high school’s permission before fervent religious groups and fearful parents found out.” (BuzzFeed).

According to the article:

‘Last fall, the Gloucester County School Board held two rounds of meetings — packed with students and parents — over a proposal aimed at solely Grimm. While he sat in the room, public testimony called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog, while some speakers debated his anatomy as a transgender boy. … the board passed a policy to prohibit transgender students from using restrooms that don’t correspond to their “biological genders.” ‘ (BuzzFeed)

The result was:

‘“The people of my community had a discussion about where I could use the bathroom — and my genitals and anatomy — that was mortifying and dehumanizing in a way I can’t begin to describe,” ‘ (BuzzFeed)

Now this case is still open, citing certain legislation that has already been used by the Obama administration to make it legally permissible for transgender students to use the facilities that align with their gender identity and not their anatomy.

The argument from Gavin’s attorney, as well as citing the above legislation, is that he has Gender Dysphoria (the incongruence between a person’s sexual anatomy and gender identity) and that a common treatment for that is to live as your gender identity defines before further surgical treatment. The school had been fine about it before. What changed?

Potentially, if this case goes in Gavin’s favour, it would be another huge step for transgender individuals in society. I thoroughly suggest reading the article in full for more information.

Exactly...

Exactly…

The Power of Choice

Do we honestly believe that we should be able to tell someone who they are? A huge part of what makes us individuals is our ability to rationalise our own existence, and analyse the elements of our character that define our identity. If someone thinks they were born in the wrong body, who are we to say otherwise?

Suneela Mubayi identifies as a male-to-female transgender. In a rather powerful article called I claim the right to choose my ultimate gender she wrote for ourbodiesourselves.org, she states:

“I claim the right to choose my ultimate gender beyond my traits, looks, qualities, and features, even if it is different from the sexual organs I possess. And whether that’s feminine or hermaphrodite or my desired blend of masculine and feminine is my choice.”

That’s the whole point; choice. She has chosen to empower herself. Even her name was originally used by a boy in class to tease her, but she took it as her name to take back control of it and disarm the bullies.

For some, being true to yourself can be a lonely experience

For some, being true to yourself can be a lonely experience

Further Choices

We have already spoken in previous instalments about the recent transition of Caitlyn Jenner. However, she is not the only high profile person to make such a change to their life.

A personal hero of mine, Martine Rothblatt, describes herself as a ‘transhumanist’. She lived her life as a man until 1994, aged 40, when she came out as transgender. She is a huge advocate of transgender rights, and one of the wealthiest CEOs in America.

In an interview for TED.com she claims that she ‘always felt her soul was female’ but she didn’t want to show it for fear that she ‘would be laughed at’. As a result, she spent 40 years of her life feeling unable to truly tap into a fundamental element of who she was. In her book The Apartheid of Sex, Rothblatt claims that ‘there are seven billion people in the world, so there are seven unique ways to express your gender’. She is also a stout believer that gender is not defined by your genitals. The book covers how we are forced into categories of male or female, restricting us from the choice of gender expression that should be a given. She says ‘separate male or female genders is a constructed fiction, the reality is a gender fluidity that crosses the entire continuum from male to female’.

See the interview for yourself here.

Is gender a journey not a destination?

Is gender a journey not a destination?

The Backlash

Inevitably, some will find the whole process of gender transition difficult to accept. In rare cases, this can lead to poisonous vitriol on a level far surpassing the language of decency and humanity. The transgender movement has been labelled as sick, wrong, against god and a disease or mental illness by some. What I find interesting is if it is a disease, then people need treatment, not bullying. If it’s a mental condition, people need treatment, not bullying. If it is against God, I’m sure God is more worried about the “2% of priests being paedophiles’ claimed in this BBC article.

If something is ‘wrong’ in the sense that it is a negative action with negative impact, it is normally because it is based on the fact that it harms others. But does being transgender actually affect anyone but the person involved? I’ve said it before, but if we all just forgot about Caitlyn Jenner and let her get on with her life, would it affect us?

Unfortunately, there are some who don’t see it this way. Ian Tuttle wrote an article for The National Review with the rather antagonistic sub-title Do those who voluntarily undergo unnecessary amputations deserve praise and support, like Caitlyn Jenner?

The article goes on to compare Jenner’s desire to transform her anatomy from male to female as being comparable to sufferers of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) wanting to amputate limbs or become deaf, blind, or dumb. His argument is that if it becomes socially acceptable to align the physical body with the mental identity in such a way, how can you say one is OK and the other is not.

To debate that Jenner was undergoing an amputation is to imply that her standard of living would decrease from such an act in a way similar to losing an arm or a vital sense is ludicrous (unless, of course, you are talking about the affects that being a woman versus being a man may have on salary or job opportunities – but we’ll save that for another post). Gender identity is something that defines us on so many ingrained levels that to deny someone the chance to be what they have always felt is surely a constriction of liberty? If a skinny kid wants to be a body builder, do you go and tell him he can’t be? If a man is born with a crooked nose, is he not allowed the plastic surgery to change it? I mean, does Mr Tuttle believe women shouldn’t be allowed to have their armpits lasered as it messes with their anatomy?

The line, again, comes back to what we said before. If someone wants to do something and it doesn’t affect anyone else, nor put them themselves in serious danger, then what is the big deal? With any such existential question, there will always be the opposite side, capable of creating abstract examples to try and circumvent this idea of liberty and lead us back towards a debate about ‘nature’ and ‘normality’. For every one that they can create, we can create more. The best answer? Ask yourself, as a human, ‘do I want other humans to be miserable?’ If you don’t, then how can you help people feel comfortable enough in themselves to enjoy life? If a celebrity you’ll never meet wants to adjust their anatomy, is it affecting you? Even if that inspires your own child to do the same, is that the end of the world? Wouldn’t you be happier that your child found a way of expressing who they truly were, instead of following a societal doctrine on gender, and forcing themselves to conform to a fiction perpetuated by each generation?

“I just wanna be meeeeeeee”

Reactions of a More Positive Nature

Scruffy yet loveable funny man Russell Brand talked recently about the world’s reaction to Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation on his YouTube Channel. His daily news segment titled ‘The Trews’ claimed, in episode 334, that the overwhelming response to Jenner’s transformation is a reflection of society’s desire for a new goddess. Religion, he argues, is full of androgynous deities. The very nature of gender is fluid, for humanity is united as one by a shared consciousness, and gender is just an expression within that. We all encompass different elements of both male and female traits, and yet by living in a largely patriarchal society we are forced to champion traits deemed masculine such as individualism and ambition, and we often forget qualities that are perceived as feminine, such as compassion and community. Whether you agree or disagree, he makes some interesting points. Is our male dominated society one of the reasons why transgenderism is so vehemently rejected by some? Ideologically, could we benefit as a society en masse from embracing a little more femininity anyway?

Watch the video here.

“Weeeeeeeeeee”

The Trickle Down

So, how can we measure whether this is becoming more of a trend, and if it is changing society at large? Well, let’s welcome back those plucky young things, the generation Z’ers, and their predecessors, the Gen Y’ers. In the article 10 Magazines Agree: Gender Is Hazy For Millenials on doingwhatsgood.us, it is claimed:

“Powerhouse brands such as Bic and Honda are finding that this group isn’t very receptive to tried-and-true male and female societal roles, and even color palettes, long the way to differentiate baby girls from boys in their early years and shape their future aesthetic preferences. And Gen Z, the 5-17-year-olds coming up right behind them, are simpatico; they find gender-specific products a turnoff. ”

We see the two largest generations in the history of planet earth are already moving towards this gender fluidity, escaping the shackles of conformity and gender targeted marketing. If we are already refusing to recognise gendered products, it is another level of the gender construct that is being peeled away. The article goes on to claim that it’s not even a conscious decision, but just a product of the environment.

“A Northwestern University professor attributed the desire to be able to choose gender identity at will to the Internet, specifically playing computer games against competitors worldwide whose gender one doesn’t necessarily know, according to USA Today. And living so much of their lives virtually—gaming, communicating and even shopping—helps explain why nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Zs believe gender lines are blurred, according to a study by the Intelligence Group reported in USA Today.”

Not sure if you believe this? Check out this article about thirteen unnecessarily gendered products, and see for yourself if you feel gender roles forced upon you are not a little bit disconcerting. For example, male sunscreen? Female pens? Any Brits reading this will be familiar with Yorkie Bars – they’re not for girls!

“Whadoyamean not for girls?”

The key point though is that as we move forward, the wheel is already turning. Like it or not, we are heading towards a much more gender fluid and androgynous future. The same article on doingwhatsgood puts it like this:

“Millennials and Gen Z parents are allowing their children to explore their gender identities and not limiting them to traditional stereotypes.”

It’s happening, one day at a time. Each generation more adept at seeing through gender stereotypes than the last. What will it mean for us as humanity? Who knows. The slow march towards AI and the potential end of biological humanity, moving instead into robotic, engineered life feels like one possible outcome that would also render gender virtually obsolete. Is that our destiny? I think gender is one way to aid personality and identity, and your personal expression of whatever you see in you is part of the make-up of who we are. Denying it is pointless, and so any cultural environment that allows for this expression should be celebrated.

What are your thoughts?

Special thanks to chokphoto, Chris Sharp, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, nongpimmy, pat138241, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

The Best Free Tools for Language Learning

see god

In this day and age, it seems almost impossible to find a good deal. I remember how it used to really annoy me as a child that my parents would complain about how much a chocolate bar would cost. I’d stare at the price tag, and see it as the lowly sum of 20p and be perplexed; how exactly was this expensive? One of them would enjoy my perplexity, before saying “in my day you could get three bars for that price, and still have money left over for a comic”. It used to feel like they were trying to make me feel bad about this imaginary expensive world we lived in, and yet now I find myself thinking the same thing. The same chocolate bars now cost double the price. The horror!

Just because things may be expensive, doesn’t mean there aren’t still deals available however. The internet is a wonderful resource. It’s a place where the creative, the ground-breaking and the educational can all rub shoulders. It’s a place were boundaries are broken down and the trappings of the real world are left behind.

Take language learning. There are some sensational resources such as Rosetta Stone and Fluenz, but both cost a couple of hundred. Other cheaper, but still subscription fee based online only programs like Babbel and Transparent Language Online can dent your wallet over time, too. You can’t fault their quality, but we don’t all have access to the funds required.

There is another way, however. The internet and app market is awash with some fantastic alternative language learning software. And all of it for the grand old price of… uh… free! Value doesn’t have to mean a high price. In fact, it could mean the complete opposite…

Live Mocha

Visit the website here

The world’s largest online language learning community, containing some 16 million members from around 195 countries. It merges a range of different methods, from traditional techniques to more interactive online programs and videos, and live conversations with native speakers. There’s even the possibility to have private lessons through the site! Though not every single part of the website is free, the vast majority is, and there is no reason for you to ever need to spend any cash if you don’t want to.

You learn from native speakers and get your grades from other students who are fluent. Live Mocha also syncs nicely into social media to give you a more diverse and interactive service than many others available.

It has become so successful that Rosetta Stone purchased the website in 2013. So far, none of the fears of new sneaky price rises have been realised, and the quality shows no sign of slowing down either!

Languages covered: Arabic, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Dutch, US English, Esperanto, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Marathi, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Ukranian and Urdu.

BBC Languages

Visit the website here

The BBC has a long history of language enabling, and though it’s website may not offer the wealth and variety of training of it’s rivals, it is a great place to find free practice and structured lessons for the long term learner.

You can find crosswords, instructional videos and other vocabulary exercises such as gap fills and comprehension. Especially helpful, there is also an online assessment to help you to figure out what level you are at, be it pre-intermediate or advanced, and then the website can direct you to the level-appropriate material.

Languages covered: Chinese, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish.

Memrise

Visit the website here

Combining science, fun and community, Memrise is an extremely useful app that manages to keep you motivated to study regularly, while giving you snap shots of language. In essence it is a memorisation program that helps to keep this interesting by turning it into a game of sorts, complete with competitive rankings against other users and rewards and tokens for reaching different levels of accomplishment.

Not only is it available online, but there is also an app on both Android and iOS. It is largely crowd sourced, so you may have to search for a little while to find the right kind of course for you. But the pay off is worth it, as this can be a fantastic resource, especially when combined with others.

Languages covered: I’m not saying that you can learn every language, but there is definitely the opportunity to learn most languages. See for yourself here.

Busuu

Visit the website here

As their website says:

“We have personally suffered from the traditional way to learn a new language which we always found expensive, difficult and boring.

Therefore, we decided to create a new concept of language learning”.

The founders Adrian and Berhard, other than sounding like 80s action heroes, have constructed a crowd sourced forum for all levels of language learners. In the initial stages you will find yourself learning a lot of flashcards and vocabulary, but as you progress there is more of an opportunity to practice writing and questions. This will be done with native speakers who are either fellow students or contributors to the website.

This can be studied on the internet, or you can download the app for Android or iOS.

Languages covered: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese and Polish.

Duolingo

Visit the website here

This is, arguably, the underground language learners most popular program. This takes the gamification of learning to new, dizzy heights. Each lesson is broken up into short scenes, practising a variety of skills including listening, speaking and translation. You have lives, and when you lose all your lives you must start again (not at the very beginning though). Your progress can be tracked easily, and you gain instant gratification from achievements along the way. In short, this is the Zelda of language learning. It’s an epic journey, and it’s a whole bouncy castle full of fun.

The website claims that a university semester of study (roughly 11 weeks) is given to you in around 34 hours of study. This is based on an independent study, which you can find here. Therefore (claim the creators), 34 hours of Duolingo is more effective than university study.

Either way, you are joining a wonderful community where you can see your skills in language develop in real time as you go from memorising flashcards to translating websites and being graded by native speakers on your quality.

My only criticism would be the lack of languages. As I am studying Chinese (a language not currently supported), I often feel like the poor kid looking through a neighbours window at Christmas and seeing their big tree, infinite presents and warm log fire as I trundle back to my cardboard box and newspaper duvet. I know I am missing out, big time. That said, an affiliate of Duolingo has recently released a Chinese app, Chinese Skill, that harnesses the same, successful methods of Duolingo.

Languages covered: English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish.

So there you have it. Are we claiming these are the only apps and websites to help? No, of course not. Are there possibly better ones out there? Yes. Half the fun of language learning is finding the method that works for you, and then running full speed to try and capitalise on that method and use it for all it’s worth!

A lot of these services run on community, and require the input of the members for the advancement of the quality. If you do decide to use one, please try and be a contributor as well, even if only seldom, as it helps to keep the perpetual free learning going.

Any apps or programs I’ve missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments section below!

All company logos are the creative property of the associated company, and not the intellectual property of ItchyQuill.com – All logos have been used to promote the associated websites and apps, not for any gain from ItchyQuill.com

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

The Art of Writing; Practising Plagiarism (or rather, Copywork)

copywork logo

Let’s begin by re-assessing the nature of the title. Of course, this is not going to be an article from a writer condoning the use of another’s material so as to further your own financial and critical success.

Wikipedia defines Plagiarism as: “…the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication”of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”

We are not here today to try to claim that the above would be good behaviour, not least the behaviour of a true gentleman/gentlewoman! In fact, we are more interested in the practice part.

The method is called Copywork. In its purest form it is just copying or writing out by hand from a written model. The focus is on improving your own writing by imitating other writers who you deem to have a style or ability worth trying to emulate.

Once upon a time in America, this was the way that children were taught to write. Even though it has now been replaced by more productive and child-specific methods, there is still very much a place for it in the advancement of writing ability in people of all ages. Before the invention of the computer, or even the printing press, anything that you wanted to keep, you would have to copy by hand. This meant that many great authors were forced to copy work, regardless of choice. Therefore many greats, as we shall see, were champions of copy work long before it was in vogue.

“Why should I do this?” I hear you cry. Well, I think you might be surprised. Here’s the Itchy Quill run-down of the benefits of Copywork, from children to adults.

Don't start kids too young though...

Don’t start kids too young though…

Demonstration of Structure

Many different styles have been introduced throughout the long history of the English language, from Gothic to Post-Modern, Romantic to meta-fiction, and they all have their own unique traditions and subtleties that can sometimes not appear obvious. The best way to learn is by doing, and so transcribing examples of them will give you a much greater understanding of the relationship between form and Lexis in a specific writer’s work, so that the mysteries of literary customs will be yours to harness. Will you use this new found power for good or evil?

Evil... Always evil

Evil… Always evil

Stylish Pro’s(e)

If you have the drive and motivation, there really is no limit to what you can try to copy. With a wealth of wonderful prose in the English language, you are positively drowning in a vast ocean of words and stylistic whales.

For a greater understanding of the ‘Western canon’, you could try your hand at imitating some Austen. Are you more of a 20th century reader? Dabble in some Woolf, Kerouac or  Vonnegut. Prefer contemporary fiction? King and Adichie are but a start. Some writers write with simplicity, some are long-winded and majestic, some just blunt and crude; yet they all have their merits and their conventions.

The point is that each author has a style that fits a greater period of writing, and to truly understand the subtle intricacies of such a writer and the style they set themselves in you can take a punt at mimicking their wordplay. We always encourage that you should try to find your own ‘voice’ in writing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get an understanding of another’s voice beforehand. Politicians the world over utilise tried and tested speech-giving techniques to make themselves seem more caring, passionate and in control. They imitate others, often citing great speech givers like Winston Churchill and Martin Luther Kind Jr. and attempting to emulate their most effective mannerisms. Rarely would we connect politicians with positive life choices, but in this context they may be onto something. Take that mentality to your writing, and watch your words burst forth as you become a prose pro!

Politicians = Trustworthy

Politicians = Trustworthy (citation needed)

The Devil in the Details

This forces you to pay attention to details. Perhaps it is the original author’s use of a specific element of punctuation that you aren’t sure about the use of (such as the pesky semicolon), or even their ability to cite academic works in their text (a la Malcolm Gladwell). Forcing you to focus gives you great practice at using yet more elements of the English language in a context that will help you to produce it again at a later time.

“Oh right, you mean ‘figuratively’ a devil… I see”

Self-Directed

The whole purpose of this exercise is to make it as easy to check as possible. After you have finished transcribing a piece, it takes a few quick minutes to see how much is accurate and correct. It should really become a ritualistic event, much like keeping a journal, but that doesn’t mean you need to dedicate more than about 20 minutes a day to start seeing the results. It is important though that it is done by hand, as there are a lot of studies linking handwriting with cognitive recall. It’s like magic.

I'm a bit of a Potterphile, my wand is my pen... I wish I was magic... Expelliamus!

Expelliamus! Only joking. Come back…

Launchpad

Every great writer has a technique to help them get the pistons firing in their head before settling down to enjoy a productive session of writing. Think of them like warmers, small activities designed to get your brain functioning in the correct context, and giving it focus on the area of itself it will need to utilise in the near future.

Blast Off!

Blast Off!

Literary Legacy

It is claimed that this technique is nearly as old as education itself, with clay tablets discovered in what would have been Mesopotamia showing evidence of scribes copying down proverbs and sayings. This tradition continued into the Ancient Egyptians and was also practiced by Jewish kings of old, as they were expected to “make their own hand-written copy of scriptures” according to wonder.riverwillow.com‘s introduction to copywork.

It is also true that many of the historical greats of written English would practice this technique, as before the invention of the printing press, much of what people wanted to create a copy of had to be hand-written. William Shakespeare, Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens are some key examples, and Benjamin Franklin even taught himself to read and write by utilising copy work techniques!

Reading is fun

Reading is fun

Vocabulary and Grammar

That’s right; it can help you level up your V & G game. Even those of you already operating at a near Wordsworthian height can benefit from seeing both of these elements of written language in context.

I’m sure many of you have at different times thought about expanding your vocabulary, whether it be with a word a day app/calender, wider and more diverse reading or even just using a thesaurus when writing. A wide and varied vernacular is crucial for a writer, and to help understand some more advanced texts to be read for pleasure. Different genres often have their own specific lexical sets too. This technique gives you real time vocabulary seen in context, and produced in such a way by yourself in parroting that you  literally see the word fall in it’s correct place in a sentence.

The whole ‘place in a sentence’ thing is extra crucial when we consider grammar. IQ has many grammar gnomes we keep locked away in our basement ready to proof-read our posts, but not everyone can be so lucky to rely on the bookworm-readiness of fantasy creatures.

English is capable of some truly bizarre grammar rules and structures, and a great way to learn these naturally (and not with mind-numbingly boring grammar books – unless that’s your thing, which is fine) is to use them in context. A whole industry of English teachers exist around the world, qualified by and large by the fact that they know the native use of language by heart, without any real formal training. It’s this ability to ‘feel’ what is right that will be one of the greatest benefits of copywork.

The great masters of literature perfected their grammatical cohesion and word choice; let their example set you free!

“I’m so (adjective)! I (verb) (nouns)!”

Need further motivation? TheWritePractice.com has a wonderful blog giving advice on further reasons why imitating your favourite authors will help with your own writing.

This doesn’t just have to be for the fiction writers out there; copywork can be hugely useful for anyone studying or practising law, medicine, history, or any of the other writing heavy subject areas, especially those with specific academic jargon (I’m looking at you, law).

Visit TheArtOfManliness.com for their blog post on copywork, with instructions on different ways to attempt copywork, from smaller work to larger, more intricate texts.

Go forth and imitate. It might be the best thing you do today!

Special thanks to bulldogza, digidreamgrafix, Feelart, hyena reality, imagerymajestic, khongkitwiriyachan and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Things to do on a Sunday (besides troll Facebook)

title

Who doesn’t love a day off? The chance to relax, unwind, and tick off many of the items on a to do list that have piled up over a busy week.

For some, it can also be a day of regret, however. Shattered from a long week, it’s not unheard of for the day to whizz by before anything substantial is achieved, leaving a feeling of hollowness in us that can’t be remedied until another day with a blank schedule is upon us.

But Sundays can be relaxing and productive. We all have our Sunday routines, and I’m sure many readers have a tried and tested formula for what makes their Sunday a day to look forward to.

For those looking for a little inspiration, or a break from their norm and an idea for something else, we’ve got your back!

Suuuundaaaaaay

Suuuundaaaaaay

Cook a big meal

Every nation has a national breakfast, though one of my personal favourites is the Fry Up! It is somewhat of an institution on the British Isles, and there is nothing I love more on a day off than to prepare one for myself or friends, from scratch.

If breakfast isn’t really your cup of tea, how about cooking a large batch meal that could save you time during the week for pursuits of leisure? Huffington Post has some great ideas for easy to make batch meals to last seven days. You could just cook an old family favourite such as chilli, or how about finally trying to cook Grandma’s secret sauce?

“I’ve been perfecting the grilled cheese for weeks”

Flaneur

A flaneur is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘a man who saunters around observing society’. The woman who does the same is know as a ‘flaneuse’. It was a popular pass-time in Victorian England; a hobby of the bourgeois.

Essentially, it’s walking. But, it’s walking for the experience of walking, not just to get from A to B! The writer Will Self is a proud advocate of the benefits of walking, often linking the peaceful stroll and it’s opportunity to appreciate his fellow humans in passing, as inspiration for his creative works. He also argues that walking through your town or city is important in the ‘fight against corporate control’ (The Guardian).

Aside from a gentle amble on a Sunday afternoon, there is also the night walk. This affords the walker a great opportunity to see the world around them in a different light, literally. With dim street lamps and eerie moonlight our only guide, we experience much more potently the smells, sounds and atmosphere of our habitat. Under the cloak of darkness, all cities emanate synaesthesia. Give it a try!

Under the cover of darkness, many things happen

Beware of the Victorian tavern wench

Catch up on Correspondences

Do you have an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in a long time? Perhaps you are trying to network and are worried that some of your connections are drifting away? Whatever the case, sometimes it is nice to take the time to re-connect with others via letters or emails. The written form of communication, though on the increase in text message and phone app form, is declining in the classical sense. Our grandparents were often semi-Jedi in regards to their penmanship, and could craft wonderful missives that could be handed down from generation to generation.

Think how much of history we know due to the letters that have been left behind! What legacy are we leaving for our children; sneezing panda videos and Candy Crush high scores? Ok, so society is hardly in decline, and in truth technology has made it easier to connect in simpler terms. That doesn’t take away the sentimental value to others of taking moments from your day to fill them in on your happenings, especially with the effort demonstrated in a wonderfully scripted letter. Thoughtcatalog.com make a compelling argument for letters here.

Dear mum, weather is good. Lots love Jay. PS, send money

Dear mum, weather is good. Lots love Jay.
PS, send money

Practice a Hobby

Juggling? Diablo? Yo-yo? Cross-stitch? Fire-eating? Flea circus? We all have little hobbies we enjoy doing when the time is right, so why not use your Sunday to level up your hobby game and get closer to pro-status!

Never underestimate the benefits of practice

Never underestimate the benefits of practice

Spring Clean

A messy room means a messy mind, or so the saying goes. For those among us who already maintain an impeccable level of cleanliness on a day to day basis, how about a deep clean? Move the furniture and get scrubbing on the hidden nooks and crannies. You could even take the opportunity to de-clutter, and chuck away all the old receipts and paperwork that have been clogging up the house.

For the truly brave, you could tackle the ‘man draw’ – the black hole of used batteries, take away menus and half-empty pens.

Yeah, don't put it off for too long!

Yeah, don’t put it off for too long!

Try Something New

“Life is trying new things to see if they work” – Ray Bradbury.

It could be trying your hand at a new dish in the kitchen, looking for a new park to relax in, or even heading out to a live performance of something you’ve never experienced before; opera, jazz flute, Tibetan dramyin! Other activities worth having a go at include polka dancing, speed dating and orienteering. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never done before, and just feel the sense of fulfilment overwhelm you as you access a new facet of your skill set!

You might discover your new favourite pass time!

You might discover your new favourite pass time!

Play a Board Game

My favourite thing about Christmas is sitting down with the nearest and dearest to play Monopoly or Risk; the most epic of such memories is of a 36 hour stint of Risk (I defiantly held Kamchatka for the final four hours before succumbing to defeat).

Of course, practice for these epic showdowns is a must, and what better time to do this than on a Sunday?

That said, there is no reason why you can’t just enjoy the feeling of detaching from the TV and other electrical devices and reconnecting with your analogue self. Your eyes and, probably, your mind will thank you.

Be careful with children - they cheat...

Be careful with children – they cheat…

Read

We’ve spoken before about the advantages to reading regularly for pleasure, and also how to find time to do so in a busy schedule (find it here), so why not use your Sunday to get nose deep in a gripping tome, zip through a riveting novella, or even just dip into the autobiography of your hero?

Giving your eyes a break from a screen will do them the world of good, and using a Sunday to reconnect with written text will be an experience you won’t hate yourself for. Plus, who doesn’t love curling up with a good book if the mood is right?

Too many books, not enough time

Too many books, not enough time

Nap

We are very much advocates of napping here at Itchy Quill, and we’ve spoken before about it’s positive effects here. A lazy Sunday is a Sunday well spent, especially if you live a life with few commitments and have the freedom and space to dip in and out of the world of slumber at will.

Not only is there strong evidence that napping is actually part of a more natural sleep pattern for humans, but it also feels darn good in its own right!

“Oi lazy boots, you have to get up before you can nap”

Exercise

This doesn’t have to be an intense two hour work out at the gym, busting sweat and building gains. Why not take a pleasant jog in the park; flaneur on fast forward? Or maybe take a bike ride? If you’re lucky enough to live close to some natural areas such as rivers, lakes or forests then why not go exploring for a day? Any physical activity that raises the pulse is essentially exercise, so use that definition to embrace a healthy day to yourself (or even with others) and explore the wonders of the world around you!

“I prefer the medium of improvised interpretive dance”

Volunteer

Providing a service to your fellow humans is one of the most satisfactory experiences one can have. Knowing that your actions, no matter how seemingly small, have benefited a member of your community, can  really give you a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that your time has been well invested. Who doesn’t love having a positive effect on the people around them?

Suggestions for things to do: go to work at your local soup kitchen, go and walk some dogs at your local animal rescue shelter, or even go and visit a retirement home and play bridge for the afternoon. It doesn’t have to be anything back-breaking or spectacular, sometimes merely spending some time in someone’s company can be enough, or offering to do things for those who cannot help themselves (like tasks around the house for an elderly neighbour).

You’ll make the world a better place! Not bad for a Sunday, eh?

“Pay it forward, you’ll thank the universe later in life”

Learn a Language

Hola! Bonjour! Terve! 您好! здравствуйте! If you don’t understand any of these, perhaps a new language would be a great way to spend this weekend. I’m not talking about total fluency, but learning a few key phrases can benefit you in many ways; for work, for travel, for friendship, for movies, or for the health of your brain. There is evidence to suggest that being bi-lingual can help to stave off dementia in adults, so get a jump-start on your studies now!

Practically, the best motivation many have to learn a language is if they know they are going to be visiting a place where the language is spoken. The way we understand that sentence here at IQ is that we should go and book ourselves a holiday and then use that as motivation to spend this Sunday learning a language. Join us!

“I learned Swedish because, you know, stereotype”

Call Family

The big one; the phonecall to the ‘rents. As time marches on, we still need to reconnect with family as often as possible, no matter how much life tries to get in the way. Maybe you’ve got a younger sibling who’s off in the city and might appreciate a little chat, or a grandparent who’s retired and spending a lot of time gardening but might fancy a little chin-wag. Don’t forget ma and pa, who I’m sure will always appreciate a chance to chew the cud with their spawn.

“Don’t forget all that your family did for you”

What do you like to do on a Sunday besides veg out in front of a computer or TV? Do you feel something essential is missing from this list that you can’t stand? Or is there something here you think is utterly ridiculous. As always, comments are appreciated.

Let us know what you are planning for this Sunday!

Special thanks to anankkml, arztsanui, Feelart, Gualberto107, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages, tuelekza, vectorolie, vegadsl and Witthaya Phonsawat @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

✏Idiomics – The History of More of Your Favourite Idioms 🌏🎓

title version 2I was discussing recently the idea of innate intelligence. As in, what separates us from each other in terms of intellectual ability. I am intrigued by the question of whether there is even a way to truly rank people in regards to intelligence, especially when it often appears that there are so many types of intelligence. As Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So imagine my dismay when the person I was discussing this with asked me if I had heard about the ‘super IQ’ test invented by Ronald K. Hoeflin. I, of course, had not, and was perplexed how this was supposed to answer my initial enquiry. My friend then said he knew one of the questions, and so proudly asked me, “Teeth is to Hen, as Nest is to … what?”

“Quick Jerry, hide your fangs. They’re onto us”

I stared at him, baffled. Cuckoo? On account of them not making nests (I was supposing). I was, of course, guessing wrong. “Mare,” he said, matter of factly, before turning to walk away. A mare’s nest, it turns out, was a term common in literature from around 1650 to 1850, and so only those who were well read would be able to know and recognise this. Both ‘hens teeth’ and ‘mare’s nest’ have similar meanings; something is extremely rare (rare as hen’s teeth), or an illusory discovery (a mare’s nest). Essentially, something so rare as to be non-existent. My friend had merely perpetuated an archaic approach to intellectual appreciation, and fallen into the age old trap of undermining another with the use of a tricky, niche intelligence question designed to alienate and promote hierarchy. That said, I wish I’d known the answer… So, proof idioms could save your life? Not quite, but proof they can be very interesting, and could also help you gain a mega IQ score of 180+ without needing to study? Perhaps.

“erm….”

We have already explored the history of some idioms in a previous post, but here we expand on this information with a few more for your reading pleasure, courtesy of recommendations from bloggers such as Quilt Musings.   Dark Horse The word ‘dark’ found a lot of use in Victorian England to describe anything mysterious or unknown, hence it became a popular term used to discuss any outside horse who was able to surprise the order and win a race from around the 1830’s onwards. Interestingly, this idiom translates almost exactly into many languages, from Finnish (musta hevonen) to Chinese (黑馬). Still… horses are not to be trusted, dark or not.

“Always up to something”

Raining Cats and Dogs

This is one of those expressions that people often wish had a literal origin, but alas it does not. The real truth behind this saying is much darker than merely the cute idea of furry rain. England in the 1700s was, to put it bluntly, pretty disgusting. Many houses didn’t have toilets, and you would normally throw your faeces straight out of the window and into the street. After time, as you can imagine, the streets became a place for all kinds of rubbish, and many people would dump many different things into the streets along with the faecal matter. This included the dead bodies of animals! Now, we are all aware that England is a drizzly land of rain. It is often named as the place where rain was invented (citation needed) and this rain would often lead to storms and minor floods. In such floods, it would not be uncommon to see the corpses of pets and animals floating in the street. The earliest reference of this can be seen in the poem ‘A description of a city shower’ by Jonathan Swift, first published in Tatler magazine in 1710, where he refers to dead animal bodies floating in the streets, along with other gross things. Urgh!

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

To see it in it’s current form, we have to look a little later to a book by Jonathan Swift titled A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation. It was released in 1738 and contains the line: “I know sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.” See the quote and a picture of the man for yourself here at izquotes.com

Like this but smellier and deader... more aargh than aww

Like this but smellier and deader… more aargh than aww

Turn a Blind Eye

For this particular idiom, we must journey back to the battle of Copenhagen in 1801; a navy tussle between British forces and a combined opposition of Norwegian/Danish ships. Admiral Hiratio Nelson was leading an attack with a fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Now, it was common at that point in history for ships to communicate between each other using semaphore and flags. During the heat of battle smoke and general fighting could distract and disrupt messages, and it was not unheard of for some to be misunderstood completely. Nelson, it should be noted, was a man who already contained a rather rebellious disregard for orders when they contravened his innate desire for success at all costs. The ambiguity of flag signals only seemed to play into his already heightened sense of disregard for key orders at key moments. Nelson = Badass.

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

As Nelson was leading a charge again Danish broadsides, his position started to look a little weaker from the distance. Parker, fearing that Nelson was only charging in further to battle to save face and not be seen as a coward, offered Nelson an ‘out’ by signalling the order for retreat. Nelson had previously lost the sight in one eye during a campaign in Cadiz in Spain before, after shrapnel sent sand and stone at his face. Upon noticing the flag command coming from Admiral Parker, Nelson turned to his flag captain (Foley) and said: “Foley, you know that I have lost an eye, and have a right to be blind sometimes.” He then raised the telescope to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal”. Find the quote here. And so a hero and a rather apt idiom was born.

Still turning a blind eye, even now

Still turning a blind eye, even now

The story of words and how they have come to find use is fascinating, and I hope you enjoyed it too. As always, comments are valued and appreciated. Is there an idiom you really wish had made it in this time? Let me know below.

Special thanks to phrases.org.uk for the wonderful information

Another special thanks to Habbick, James Barker, koko-tewan, papaija2008, stockimages, Tina Phillips and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015