21 Epigrams That Can Make You A Better Person

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomAn epigram is a remark that expresses an idea in a clever way; an ingenious thought. Or expressed another way: wisdom in a nutshell. The word is based on the Greek word epigramma, meaning “an inscription (typically on a tomb or monument).” The ancient Greeks were very fond of epigrams. The prominent Stoic philosopher Epictetus observed: “What is the fruit of these teachings? Only the most beautiful and proper harvest of the truly educated — tranquility, fearlessness, and freedom. We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”

Ryan Holiday, originally a marketing director and now a successful author of several bestselling books, has popularized the wisdom of stoicism, particularly in The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016). In an article for Manliness, Holiday reflects on the enduring significance of epigrams: “As long as man has been alive, he has been collecting little sayings about how to live. We find them carved in the rock of the Temple of Apollo and etched as graffiti on the walls of Pompeii. They appear in the plays of Shakespeare, the commonplace book of H. P. Lovecraft, the collected proverbs of Erasmus, and the ceiling beams of Montaigne’s study. Today, they’re recorded on iPhones and in Evernote… And they pack all this in in so few words.” Remarkably, Holiday believes that by following 21 epigrams, which he has collected over the years, can make you a better person — and here’s the rub: if you apply them.

“We must all either wear out or rust out, every one of us. My choice is to wear out.” (Theodore Roosevelt)

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Epictetus)

“The best revenge is not to be like that.” (Marcus Aurelius)

“There is good in everything, if only we look for it.” (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

“Character is fate.” (Heraclitus)

“If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” (Nicholas Nassim Taleb)

“Every man I meet is my master in some point, and in that I learn of him.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

“This is not your responsibility but it is your problem.” — Cheryl Strayed)

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.” — Marcus Aurelius)

“You are only entitled to the action, never to its fruits.” (Bhagavad Gita)

“Self-sufficiency is the greatest of all wealth.” (Epicurus)

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” (Jose Ortega y Gasset)

“Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue.” (Zeno)

“Space I can recover. Time, never.” —Napoleon Bonaparte)

“You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” (Warren Buffett)

“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“The world was not big enough for Alexander the Great, but a coffin was.” (Juvenal)

“To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.” (Winston Churchill)

“Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Jesus)

“Time and patience are the strongest warriors.” (Leo Tolstoy)

“No one saves us but ourselves / No one can and no one may.” (Buddha)

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The Wisdom of a Grandmother
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The Wisdom of Yoda
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For further reading: https://www.artofmanliness.com/articles/21-best-epigrams/


To Live is to Suffer, to Survive is to Find Meaning in the Suffering

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsTo live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

German philologist, Latin and Greek scholar, and philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), considered one of the most influential philosophers in modern intellectual history and Western philosophy.

Question to Bookshelf community, particularly Nietzsche scholars: what is the source of this quote? An exhaustive search provided no definitive answer where this first appeared in Nietzsche’s works.


The Most Beautiful College Libraries in America

alex atkins bookshelf booksAs most librarians know, college libraries have been on the endangered species list for some time. Over the last two decades, college libraries have downsized, relocated, or — gasp — entirely eliminated their books as they shifted to digital resources or repurposed the space. Which begs the question: if a library does not have any books, is it still a library? But we digress. In the article “The Disappearance of Books Threatens to Erode Fine Arts Libraries,” journalist Sarah Bond discusses this disturbing trend: “Across the country, many university libraries are engaged in a book purge. This has meant reassessing the use of library spaces and consolidating book holdings in a bid to attract more visitors. In states like Missouri and Kansas, libraries have begun to spend more and more of their annual budgets on digital subscriptions and spaces for people, rather than on the acquisition of physical books. As in Austin and Madison, such shifts have often been met with resistance. At Syracuse University in New York, there was a faculty uproar over the proposed movement of books to a far-away warehouse. The struggle ultimately resulted in the university building a 20,000-square-foot storage facility nearby for over 1 million books — guaranteeing next-business-day delivery.”

Twenty years ago, book stores also thrived. Consumers took them for granted. And then, before you knew it, they disappeared — one by one. That is why Town & Country’s recent feature, “22 of America’s Most Beautiful College Libraries,” is a reminder to appreciate their significance of what they contain as well as their stunning architecture. If you have an opportunity, visit them while they are still around. Here is the list of the 22 most beautiful college libraries in America:

Bapst Art Library at Boston College

Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington

Widener Library at Harvard University

Uris Library at Cornell University

Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College

Riggs Library at Georgetown University

Washington University Law Library

Hoose Philosophy Library at the University of Southern California

Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago

George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University

Fisher Fine Arts Library at the University of Pennsylvania

Cook Legal Research Library at the University of Michigan

Butler Library at Columbia University

Beinecke Rare Book And Manuscript Library at Yale

Anne Bremer Memorial Library at San Francisco Art Institute

Mclure Education Library at the University of Alabama

Joe And Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago

Firestone Library at Princeton University

Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego

Albert And Shirley Small Special Collections Library at University of Virginia

William R. Perkins Library at Duke University

Powell Library at UCLA

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: A Tale of Two Donkeys and a Mobile Library
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For further reading: https://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/news/g3006/most-beautiful-college-libraries/
https://hyperallergic.com/433583/fine-arts-libraries-books-disappearing/


What is a Ghost Word?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA ghost word is definitely scary — especially if you are a lexicographer. Why? Because, at bottom, a ghost word is essentially a euphemism for a royal lexicographic f**k-up. More politely, a ghost word is a word published in a dictionary that is meaningless because it originated from an egregious mistake, eg, a typo, misreading, mispronunciation, or misinterpretation. Oops!

The term ghost word was coined by philologist Walter William Skeat in 1886. As president of the Philological Society, Skeat wanted to nip this lexicographical disaster in the bud; in a speech he highlighted this embarrassing professional blunder: “Of all the work which the Society has at various times undertaken, none has ever had so much interest for us, collectively, as the New English Dictionary. Dr. Murray [the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 to 1915] , as you will remember, wrote on one occasion a most able article, in order to justify himself in omitting from the Dictionary the word abacot, defined by Webster as “the cap of state formerly used by English kings, wrought into the figure of two crowns”. It was rightly and wisely rejected by our Editor on the ground that there is no such word, the alleged form being due to a complete mistake … due to the blunders of printers or scribes, or to the perfervid imaginations of ignorant or blundering editors… I propose, therefore, to bring under your notice a few more words of the abacot type; words which will come under our Editor’s notice in course of time, and which I have little doubt that he will reject. As it is convenient to have a short name for words of this character, I shall take leave to call them “ghost-words.”I only allow the title of ghost-words to such words, or rather forms, as have no meaning whatever.” And thus, the ghost word was born.

Related to the ghost word, is the term Nihilartikel (a mixed language portmanteau, Latin and German, literally translated, “nothing article) that is a fictitious word that is deliberately published in a dictionary to catch a plagiarist. The term was first used in German articles in the early 2000. (Those who grew up in the era of maps, may be familiar with Rand-McNally maps. They would include fake streets, known as trapstreets in cartography jargon,  in their maps in order to catch ruthless competitors who copied and sold their maps illegally.) A Nihelartikel is also known as a trap word or Mountweazel, named after a phony entry in the New Columbia Encyclopedia (1975) about a non-existent person named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel, a supposed fountain designer who became a photographer. The original fake news, as it were.

Here are some of the notable ghost words that have made it into some of the most venerated dictionaries:

dord: Perhaps the most famous of all ghost words. It was first included in Webster’s International Dictionary (second edition) in 1934. The definition was indicated as “density.” It wasn’t until five years later that an eagle-eye editor realized that the entry for dord did not have an etymology. He checked the dictionary’s extensive files and found the original paper slip; it read: “D or d, cont/ density” which was referring to abbreviations that began with the letter “D.” However, a typesetter interpreted this as “dord” with the definition of “density.” (Back then words were often written with spaces in between the letters so that lexicographers could insert pronunciation marks.) The ghost word was finally removed from the dictionary in 1947.

abacot: This ghost word made its appearance in Superman’s Glossarium published in 1664, based on the appearance of the word in the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles published in 1587. This ghost word then appeared in many other English dictionaries. As Skeat mentioned in his speech, three centuries later, James Murray discovered that the word was an egregious misprint of the world bycoket, a cap or head-dress. By then, abacot was firmly entrenched in the English lexicon, with a meaning expanded to include “cap of state,” “made like a double crown,” or “worn by ancient Kings of England.”

esquivalience: This ghost word is a deliberately fake word placed by the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary (2001) to catch other dictionary makers who want to steal their content. The definition was: the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities; the shirking of duties.” A perfect word for the Trump administration, no? The word was invented by editor Christine Lindberg, who confessed in an interview that she used it regularly: “I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: ‘Those esquivalient little wretches.’ Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that.”

feamyng: This ghost word supposedly is a collective noun for ferrets. Lexicographer Dmitri Bormann discovered that the word is the result of a long chain of bonehead typos: from BUSYNESS to BESYNESS to FESYNES to FESNYNG to FEAMYNG.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts:
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For further reading: Beyond Language: Adventures in Words and Thoughts by Dmitri Borgmann
https://www.merriam-webster.com
https://www.futilitycloset.com/?s=esquivalience
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nihilartikel


The Poetry of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf literature“In the aftermath of the spectacular collapse of the twin towers on September 11, 2001, the act of turning to poetry enjoyed a revival,” observed US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. “In times of crisis, poems, not paintings or ballet, are what people habitually reach for… The formalized language of poetry can ritualize experience and provide emotional focus… Poetry also can assure us that we are not alone; others, some of them long dead, have felt what we are feeling.” Moreover, poetry that is thought-provoking and stirs the soul, assures us that we do not forget those who lost their lives; and to affirm that their lives mattered.

On the 17th anniversary of 9/11, Bookshelf presents two powerful poems that provide different perspectives of that tragic day. The first, written by Martin Espada, pays tribute to the 43 members of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, who worked at the Windows on the World restaurant, who perished that day. Many of these workers were immigrants who had come to America to seek a better life for themselves and their families. The second poem, written by Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, was inspired by Richard Drew’s haunting photograph, “The Falling Man,” that captured a man hurtling, seemingly peacefully, toward his death. The clever ending of the poem, achieves the same thing as the iconic photograph: suspending the unknown man in the air for eternity — to keep him alive, if not in this world, then in our collective memory.

Alabanza by Martin Espada

Alabanza. Praise the cook with a shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook’s yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana,
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy’s music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.

Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the shudder deep in the glass of the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in Fajardo,
like a cook’s soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God’s beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan and Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.

**********************

Photograph from September 11 by Wislawa Szymborska

They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them 
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

They jumped from the burning floors—
one, two, a few more,
higher, lower.

The photograph halted them in life,
and now keeps them 
above the earth toward the earth.

Each is still complete,
with a particular face
and blood well hidden.

There’s enough time
for hair to come loose,
for keys and coins
to fall from pockets.

They’re still within the air’s reach,
within the compass of places
that have just now opened.

I can do only two things for them—
describe this flight
and not add a last line.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: One of the Greatest Magazine Stories: Falling Man
The Poem I Turn To
Unfathomable Grief
The Best Books on 9/11

For further reading: September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

 


The Worst Sentence Ever Written: 2018

catkins-bookshelf-literatureThe Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (BLFC), established in 1982 by English Professor Scott Rice at San Jose State University, recognizes the worst opening sentence (also known as an “incipit”) for a novel. The name of the quasi-literary contest honors Edward George Bulwer Lytton, author of a very obscure 1830 Victorian novel, Paul Clifford, with a very famous opening sentence: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” 

Each year, contest receives more than 10,000 entries from all over the world — proving that there is no shortage of wretched writers vying for acclaim. The contest now has several subcategories, including adventure, crime, romance, and detective fiction. The winner gets bragging rights for writing the worst sentence of the year and a modest financial award of $150 — presumably for writing lessons.

The winner of the 2018 BLFC was Tanya Menezes of San Jose, California:
Cassie smiled as she clenched John’s hand on the edge of an abandoned pier while the sun set gracefully over the water, and as the final rays of light disappeared into a star-filled sky she knew that there was only one thing left to do to finish off this wonderful evening, which was to throw his severed appendage into the ocean’s depths so it could never be found again — and maybe get some custard after.

The runner up was submitted by Shelley Siddall of West Kelowna, Canada:
Dreaded Pirate Larry was somewhat worried, as he looked down at his boot, where his first mate was stretched out, making whooshing sounds, attempting to blow him over, that despite having the fastest ship, the most eye patches, and the prettiest parrots, his crew may need a few lessons on the difference between literal and figurative, as evidenced by the rest of the crew applying ice to the timbers.

The winner in the category of Crime/Detective was Dave Agans of Wilton, New Hampshire:
He glanced at his unsuspecting guests, his slight smile hiding his hateful mood, his calm eyes hiding his evil intentions, and his smooth skin hiding his tensed muscles, skeletal structure, and internal organs.

The winner in the category of Vile Puns was Peter Bjorkman of Rocklin, California (again!):
As Sheriff (and choral conductor) Patrick “Pitch-Perfect” McHenry assessed his perfectly mediocre chorus upon the saloon stage (sopranos that could only sing melody, serviceable altos, screechy tenors, and basses dropping the pitch by more than a quarter step), a wrinkled scowl protruded from under his pristine Stetson and he growled, “I don’t like your tone” at his “okay” chorale.

Read related posts: The Worst Sentence Ever Written
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The Best Sentences in English Literature

Best Books for Word Lovers
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For futher reading: https://www.bulwer-lytton.com/latest-winners
Dark and Stormy Rides Again by Scott Rice, Penguin Books (1996)


The Wisdom of Supercentenarians

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year, Americans spend close to $1 billion on over 30,000 different self-help books, seeking guidance to life’s challenges or simply finding inspiration to live the “good life.” But who are the wisest people, the real experts on life? As Mitch Albom (Tuesdays with Morrie) and Karl Pillemer (30 Lessons for Living) have discovered, the best persons to ask about persevering through hard times, living a life with fulfillment and without regret, and learning to love authentically are the people who have already done it themselves — what Millenials refer to as “oldies.” Invariably, those who have lived longer have also learned longer — with age comes experience and the wisdom gained from reflecting on that experience.

For truly timeless wisdom, let us turn to a very select group of oldies — supercentenarians: people who are older than 110 years. According to the Gerontology Research Group, as of this writing, there are only 35 supercentenarians alive today: 33 are female, and only 2 are male; their average age is 113 years. Over the years, in various interviews, these remarkable human beings have shared their secret for a good and long life. Basically, if you want to live past 110 years, you have to subscribe to the philosophy of “Don’t worry, he happy.” I know — easier said than done. Here are some of the highlights (name followed by age):

Jeanne Calment (122, died 1997): “If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”

Sarah Knauss (119, died 1999): She explained that not letting things upset her was her secret to long life.

Marie-Louise Febronie Meilleur (117, died 1998): “Hard work could never kill a person.”

Violet Brown (117, died 2017): “Hard work; I was a cane farmer. I would do every work I could manage to help myself.”

Emma Morano (117, died 2017): “Being single” and getting to bed early each day.

Maria Capovilla (116, died 2006): Her daughter said, “She always had a very tranquil character and she does not get upset by anything.”

Susannah Muscat Jones (116, died 2016): “I have no secret. I just live with my family. That’s the only thing I can say. My family makes me happy.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Letters to a Young Poet
The Wisdom of Pi Patel
The Wisdom of Hindsight

The Wisdom of a Grandmother

For further reading: www.businessinsider.com/the-secrets-to-long-life-according-to-the-oldest-people-in-the-world-2016-12
http://www.grg.org/Adams/TableE.html
http://www.dailyinfographic.com/lessons-from-oldest-people-ever-recorded?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+DailyInfographic+%28Daily+Infographic%29


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