Trick or Treat


Halloween is just around the corner. And you have only a ghost of a chance of avoiding this most heinous of celebrations. The mighty ghost may have fallen from his pedestal, but he is still deserving of our respect. So let’s pay him a brief tribute. At his height he was a gost, playing a variety of spiritual roles from angel to devil. A spelling error, however, by an English printer named William Caxton, came back to haunt us, making him into a ghost, which is how he entered the language around 1600. His decline began in 1613 when he became a shadow of his former self—a faint image, or a slight suggestion, as in a ghost of a chance.

His stature was further reduced as a ghost (writer) in 1922, diminishing his role to the hidden presence behind many a book, he having first ghosted or ghostwritten in the 1880s.

Throwing your hands up in despair? Totally surrendering to it all? We first gave up the ghost in Job 14:10 as the soul that departs the body when we die: “Man dieth, and wasteth away; yea man giveth up the ghost and where is he?” That was the King James Version. The bland Revised Standard Version of the Bible, however, rewrote the passage, excising the ghost altogther: “But man dies, and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he?

Where are we indeed, when the holiest of books rejects the spiritual? Giving up the ghost — ceasing to function, simply expiring—that’s where.

V for Virtue


Happy October 19, time for a special tribute to Annie Peck born this day in 1850—for having attained heights unknown. At age 45, she scaled the Matterhorn and in 1895 at age 61, climbed Mt. Coropuna in Peru (21,250 feet), planting a “Votes for women” banner at the summit.

These courageous feats of strength unfortunately can only be measured against those of a man. In Latin he was vir, “a male adult, ” making him virilis, “thus establishing his virility, or “masculine strength,” from Latin virilis, “manly.” Virtus was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome, carrying connotations of valor, excellence, courage, character, and worth. But coming as it does from Latin vir, “man, “it was perceived primarily as a masculine strength—a virtue frequently attributed to various Roman emperors. It came even to be personified as a deity—Virtus.

Moral excellence made a man virtuous. When applied to a woman, however, it simply left her “chaste.” The virile man continues to be celebrated for being full of vim. from the Latin for “force,” though misuse of that force has also helped create much of the violence in the world from violentus, “impetuous” or “boisterous,” leading to his violation of both laws and women, from violare, violatus, “to maltreat or dishonor.”

The word virago today describes a “noisy, domineering woman.” Better we return to Ancient Rome where she was “a heroic woman”, “a female warrior,” “strong and brave as a man,” A perfect description of an Annie Peck and so many other worthy, but unnoted women today.

Ban This


“Banned books week” was the last week in September. But the banners of books continue their work year round. Isn’t it time we asked, “Who gave them the power to determine what we should or should not read, or what ideas we may properly entertain?” Better yet, “Where did the idea of banning originate?”

The history of the word, “ban” goes back to Medieval times, when the Lord in power frequently issued edicts called bans the intent of which was to primarily conscript men for battle. All called were expected to comply. One shirking his duty was considered to have fallen outside the ban. This made for the French bannir, “to proclaim,” labeling him an outlaw, leading invariably to his banishment and making him into a bandit, from the Italian bandito.

Over time, the ban evolved from a proclamation to a prohibition. In our culture we primarily ban ideas. Books which are nothing more than a collection of ideas are often the subject of banning, thus making writers into outlaws of sorts.

The lord’s banal rights also gave him exclusive control of everything on his estate: the ovens, mills, storage facilities etc., and the right to decree who used them—conditions set forth in the bans. There were bans for everything, even for formal notice of intended marriage of those under his control, as when couples posted the banns. Covering so many situations, and issued with such frequency, the ban came to be considered commonplace or trite—yet another ban…ho-hum. This explains how those working to ban ideas and works of art today would merely substitute their own banal stuff in its stead.

Equally banal is the senseless bombardment of these words and their cheap exploitation. Knights once raised the flag of their sovereign lord in tribute to him. It was called a banner. The word is now considered a symbol of principles, making for banner headlines and banner years—proclaiming things “leading” or “foremost.” These are ironically also banner years for dirty words. Never before have they had it so good—especially with stand-up comedians and shows on cable.

What are we to do under this onslaught? The French gave us mettre à bandon, “to put under another’s control,” hence to give it up. Abandon the principle of freedom of expression to the self-styled lords of morality? Banish the thought. But let us also raise high the banner of taste and creative use of language for all words, bar none.

Right On!


Writing a daily column without a copy editor, leaves me open to accusations of not dotting my I’s and crossing my T’s — providing assurance that my work was accurate down to the very last detail—something which ain’t necessarily so.

It’s a degree of meticulousness which originated in 19th century classroom where schoolchildren were warned — you guessed it — of confusing their I’s with their T’s by carelessly writing them without their respective dots and crosses.

So it goes. If the truth be known, I’m also not always on the nose, something that originated in old time radio and the signal given by the producer to the on-air performer that the program was running according to schedule.

Those who find my efforts to actually be so, may also find them done to a turn (c.1780) — like meat being turned on a spit, until cooked to just the right degree.

They should then suit you to a T, the draftsman’s T, that is – a shaped ruler being used for accurate drawing of right angles. Or better yet, the T which was the first letter of the word “tittle,” a dot or a jot (late 17th C.).

Here in greater Seattle, they’re all that and more. Things are always in good order or in good health here. That’s because they’re as right as rain (c.1894). And rain is what it’s all about.

What is so right about the rain? You got me. Except for a pleasant alliterative ring, it doesn’t have much going for it, unless, of course, if you live here; in which case, rain is always 100% politically correct.

Whatever… just don’t rain on my parade.