Thursday, September 22, 2016

The other day, my teen daughter heard Alanis Morissette's "You Ought to Know" and got rather confused by a line in the lyrics.
Image by svklimkin on morgeufile.com

"Is she really singing about a cross-eyed bear? Am I hearing that wrong?"

I explained to her that the lyric is "the cross I bear," alluding to Jesus' crucifixion and his teachings prior to it about following his example of living self-sacrificially. This is a kid raised going to church weekly and attends Christian school. So if that allusion whipped right by her, chances are, there are plenty of folks without and even with a Judeo-Christian faith background who don't quite get a number of English idioms that are allusions to Bible stories.

Allusions are complex as literary devices go. An allusion is meant to bring an entire story and its context to bear on a present situation. Therefore, as I explain each, I'll note not only what a phrase typically signifies, but also the context from which the words are taken.

Am I my brother's keeper?

What it means: Not really my problem. I'm not going to take responsibility.

What it alludes to: Genesis 4:1-16
God likes Abel's sacrifice of lamb better than his brother Cain's first fruits offering. Cain gets so envious that he kills Abel. When God asks, "Where is your brother?" Cain's playing-dumb response is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain hoped to evade responsibility and punishment, but he got both, in spades.

Beat swords into ploughshares

What it means: A picture of perfect peace, when weapons aren't needed, and the metal would best be put to use making farm equipment, leading to plenty of food for all.

What it alludes to: Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3
These verses are nearly identical in describing a time when humanity is living peacefully under God's leadership: "He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Micah 4:3 NIV). Folks are so much at peace that weapons are obsolete--a waste of good metal that could be put to better use. Without the weapons, folks don't even train for battle. They have better things to do, like keep agriculture humming along.

Cross to bear

What it means: A difficulty that requires walking a path of suffering; a situation that requires "dying to self" or putting aside one's desires, demands and rights.

To be clear, in popular understanding, the former meaning is more prominent, though it is theologically an incorrect interpretation. The latter meaning more accurately reflect what the Matthew 16 verses mean--radical humility, not masochism of Stoicism. Christian teaching on suffering is more accurately reflected in a "thorn in the flesh" (see below).

What it alludes to: John 19:16-18; Matthew 16:24-26
Two contexts here: first, Jesus' own crucifixion, in which he was made to carry the wood beams on which he would be executed. It's a picture of carrying the means of your death, of extreme self-sacrifice. Second, Jesus taught his disciples that being his followers meant having a similar willingness to  be selfless and to obey God instead of following one's self-serving, throw-others-under-the-bus desire to be first.

Forbidden fruit

What it means: a tempting, bad / wrong thing

What it alludes to: Genesis 2:15-3:24
God gave Adam and Eve and entire garden of food to eat, except for the fruit of one tree, but the cunning serpent convinced them to eat anyway. Breaking that simple rule lost them the privilege of being in the garden and brought pain and curses.

Gird up your loins

What it means: Get ready to fight or do a difficult task.

What it alludes to: Job 40:7, Jeremiah 1:17, Ephesians 6:14, I Peter 1:13
In a culture that wore long, flowing tunics, it was difficult to get anywhere fast with all that fabric flapping around you. "Girding" meant gathering and securing the extra cloth in a girth or belt, and the "loins," or lower torso, would thus be wrapped up, enabling freer leg movement.

Here's a helpful image of the process:

Image by Ted Slampyak (http://jazzagecomics.storenvy.com//)


Good Samaritan

What it means: a complete stranger who cares for someone in need or danger

What it alludes to: Luke 10:25-37
When Jesus says the second greatest commandment is "love your neighbor as yourself," a listener asks "But who is my neighbor?"

He goes on to tell the parable--a fictional teaching story--of a man who gets robbed and beaten and left for dead. Two of his countrymen pass him by, doing nothing (probably not wanting the inconvenience of becoming ritually impure from possibly touching a dead body.) A third guy comes by -- someone from Samaria, land of half-breeds who practice a divergent form of Judaism -- and he helps. And not just a little. The Samaritan cleans the victim's wounds, gives him a ride on his donkey, takes him to a nearby inn, then pays for his care.

Jesus uses the story to teach that loving neighbor isn't about deciding who's part of the in group or out group, it's about showing the care you'd want to receive when you see someone in need--even weirdos, outsiders, and enemies.

Out of the mouths of babes

What it means: Wise words coming from a young person.

What it alludes to: Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16
"From the mouth of infants and nursing babes
You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease." (Psalm 8:2)

Jesus refers to the verse when, following the events of Palm Sunday, the religious leaders are angry that kids are following him around, yelling "Hosanna to the Son of David!" He's making the harsh point that God has given this insight about his identity, and that the temple leaders are, therefore, in enmity with God if they dislike these words.

Pearls before swine

What it means: Know your audience, and be discerning. If a group won't be inclined to value the very good thing you're offering, better to not waste it.

What it alludes to: Matthew 7:6
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

Dogs in the Bible are scavenger beasts that do gross things like eat dead bodies; swine/pigs are paralleled here, and likewise "unclean." Similarly, a parallel is being drawn between "what is sacred" and pearls. This verse is part of the section that teaches "do not judge lest you be judged." So it's a counterbalance--don't condemn others, but do be discerning.

Salt of the earth

What it means: A truly good person who embodies loving God and neighbor. A solid citizen who does good and influences others to do the same.

What it alludes to: Matthew 5:13
"You are the salt of the earth," Jesus tells his listeners in this Sermon on the Mount word-picture of being a positive influence. Salt was used in this era to preserve perishable foods (salted meats, pickled vegetables), and as a flavoring. The verse also warns against "losing saltiness"--failing to be a positive force who keeps decay (especially moral decay) at bay.

Scapegoat

What it means: An innocent forced to take on someone else's guilt

What it alludes to: Leviticus 16: 20-22
As part of the original rituals of Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement, a live goat ritually had all the sins (deliberate wrongdoing) and trespasses (straying) of the people prayed onto it by the high priest. It was then set loose to wander in the wilderness. It is a picture of evil being removed through substitution--an innocent one carrying another's guilt.

Thorn in the flesh

What it means: Chronic infirmity, annoyance or trouble, especially that cements your sense of limitation and keeps you humble.

What it alludes to: II Corinthians 12:7-9
In his epistles, St. Paul refers a number of times to a problem with his eyesight that hindered his ability to keep up one important part of his church-building enterprise--sending letters to congregations to train and encourage them. He realized it was more than an annoyance--it was teaching him to not become arrogant about his success spreading Christianity. (There are other theories and interpretations of what St. Paul's "thorn" might have been,)

Writing is on the wall / Handwriting on the wall

What it means: Judgement is imminent / the bad ending is obvious

What it alludes to: Daniel 5
Babylonian King Belshazzar threw a big banquet using sacred vessels looted from the temple in Jerusalem. A hand appeared and wrote a cryptic message on the wall: "Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin." No one could figure out what it meant, so the prophet Daniel was brought in, and he told them the specific judgment about to befall this bad king. The very next day, the prophecy came true.

Were these terms familiar to you? Which one(s) surprised you most?

Thursday, September 22, 2016 Laurel Garver
The other day, my teen daughter heard Alanis Morissette's "You Ought to Know" and got rather confused by a line in the lyrics.
Image by svklimkin on morgeufile.com

"Is she really singing about a cross-eyed bear? Am I hearing that wrong?"

I explained to her that the lyric is "the cross I bear," alluding to Jesus' crucifixion and his teachings prior to it about following his example of living self-sacrificially. This is a kid raised going to church weekly and attends Christian school. So if that allusion whipped right by her, chances are, there are plenty of folks without and even with a Judeo-Christian faith background who don't quite get a number of English idioms that are allusions to Bible stories.

Allusions are complex as literary devices go. An allusion is meant to bring an entire story and its context to bear on a present situation. Therefore, as I explain each, I'll note not only what a phrase typically signifies, but also the context from which the words are taken.

Am I my brother's keeper?

What it means: Not really my problem. I'm not going to take responsibility.

What it alludes to: Genesis 4:1-16
God likes Abel's sacrifice of lamb better than his brother Cain's first fruits offering. Cain gets so envious that he kills Abel. When God asks, "Where is your brother?" Cain's playing-dumb response is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain hoped to evade responsibility and punishment, but he got both, in spades.

Beat swords into ploughshares

What it means: A picture of perfect peace, when weapons aren't needed, and the metal would best be put to use making farm equipment, leading to plenty of food for all.

What it alludes to: Isaiah 2:4, Micah 4:3
These verses are nearly identical in describing a time when humanity is living peacefully under God's leadership: "He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore" (Micah 4:3 NIV). Folks are so much at peace that weapons are obsolete--a waste of good metal that could be put to better use. Without the weapons, folks don't even train for battle. They have better things to do, like keep agriculture humming along.

Cross to bear

What it means: A difficulty that requires walking a path of suffering; a situation that requires "dying to self" or putting aside one's desires, demands and rights.

To be clear, in popular understanding, the former meaning is more prominent, though it is theologically an incorrect interpretation. The latter meaning more accurately reflect what the Matthew 16 verses mean--radical humility, not masochism of Stoicism. Christian teaching on suffering is more accurately reflected in a "thorn in the flesh" (see below).

What it alludes to: John 19:16-18; Matthew 16:24-26
Two contexts here: first, Jesus' own crucifixion, in which he was made to carry the wood beams on which he would be executed. It's a picture of carrying the means of your death, of extreme self-sacrifice. Second, Jesus taught his disciples that being his followers meant having a similar willingness to  be selfless and to obey God instead of following one's self-serving, throw-others-under-the-bus desire to be first.

Forbidden fruit

What it means: a tempting, bad / wrong thing

What it alludes to: Genesis 2:15-3:24
God gave Adam and Eve and entire garden of food to eat, except for the fruit of one tree, but the cunning serpent convinced them to eat anyway. Breaking that simple rule lost them the privilege of being in the garden and brought pain and curses.

Gird up your loins

What it means: Get ready to fight or do a difficult task.

What it alludes to: Job 40:7, Jeremiah 1:17, Ephesians 6:14, I Peter 1:13
In a culture that wore long, flowing tunics, it was difficult to get anywhere fast with all that fabric flapping around you. "Girding" meant gathering and securing the extra cloth in a girth or belt, and the "loins," or lower torso, would thus be wrapped up, enabling freer leg movement.

Here's a helpful image of the process:

Image by Ted Slampyak (http://jazzagecomics.storenvy.com//)


Good Samaritan

What it means: a complete stranger who cares for someone in need or danger

What it alludes to: Luke 10:25-37
When Jesus says the second greatest commandment is "love your neighbor as yourself," a listener asks "But who is my neighbor?"

He goes on to tell the parable--a fictional teaching story--of a man who gets robbed and beaten and left for dead. Two of his countrymen pass him by, doing nothing (probably not wanting the inconvenience of becoming ritually impure from possibly touching a dead body.) A third guy comes by -- someone from Samaria, land of half-breeds who practice a divergent form of Judaism -- and he helps. And not just a little. The Samaritan cleans the victim's wounds, gives him a ride on his donkey, takes him to a nearby inn, then pays for his care.

Jesus uses the story to teach that loving neighbor isn't about deciding who's part of the in group or out group, it's about showing the care you'd want to receive when you see someone in need--even weirdos, outsiders, and enemies.

Out of the mouths of babes

What it means: Wise words coming from a young person.

What it alludes to: Psalm 8:2, Matthew 21:16
"From the mouth of infants and nursing babes
You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease." (Psalm 8:2)

Jesus refers to the verse when, following the events of Palm Sunday, the religious leaders are angry that kids are following him around, yelling "Hosanna to the Son of David!" He's making the harsh point that God has given this insight about his identity, and that the temple leaders are, therefore, in enmity with God if they dislike these words.

Pearls before swine

What it means: Know your audience, and be discerning. If a group won't be inclined to value the very good thing you're offering, better to not waste it.

What it alludes to: Matthew 7:6
As part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners: "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

Dogs in the Bible are scavenger beasts that do gross things like eat dead bodies; swine/pigs are paralleled here, and likewise "unclean." Similarly, a parallel is being drawn between "what is sacred" and pearls. This verse is part of the section that teaches "do not judge lest you be judged." So it's a counterbalance--don't condemn others, but do be discerning.

Salt of the earth

What it means: A truly good person who embodies loving God and neighbor. A solid citizen who does good and influences others to do the same.

What it alludes to: Matthew 5:13
"You are the salt of the earth," Jesus tells his listeners in this Sermon on the Mount word-picture of being a positive influence. Salt was used in this era to preserve perishable foods (salted meats, pickled vegetables), and as a flavoring. The verse also warns against "losing saltiness"--failing to be a positive force who keeps decay (especially moral decay) at bay.

Scapegoat

What it means: An innocent forced to take on someone else's guilt

What it alludes to: Leviticus 16: 20-22
As part of the original rituals of Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement, a live goat ritually had all the sins (deliberate wrongdoing) and trespasses (straying) of the people prayed onto it by the high priest. It was then set loose to wander in the wilderness. It is a picture of evil being removed through substitution--an innocent one carrying another's guilt.

Thorn in the flesh

What it means: Chronic infirmity, annoyance or trouble, especially that cements your sense of limitation and keeps you humble.

What it alludes to: II Corinthians 12:7-9
In his epistles, St. Paul refers a number of times to a problem with his eyesight that hindered his ability to keep up one important part of his church-building enterprise--sending letters to congregations to train and encourage them. He realized it was more than an annoyance--it was teaching him to not become arrogant about his success spreading Christianity. (There are other theories and interpretations of what St. Paul's "thorn" might have been,)

Writing is on the wall / Handwriting on the wall

What it means: Judgement is imminent / the bad ending is obvious

What it alludes to: Daniel 5
Babylonian King Belshazzar threw a big banquet using sacred vessels looted from the temple in Jerusalem. A hand appeared and wrote a cryptic message on the wall: "Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin." No one could figure out what it meant, so the prophet Daniel was brought in, and he told them the specific judgment about to befall this bad king. The very next day, the prophecy came true.

Were these terms familiar to you? Which one(s) surprised you most?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The new school year has begun, which always feels to me like a time for me to start new things, or in this case, restart old things.

Back in 2009, one of my critique group friends called with an urgent punctuation question. It was something pretty simple about quotes within quotes. This got me wondering if any of my blog followers have burning questions about some matter of grammar, usage, or style.

From there, I started a little series called Editor-on-call, in which I answer your burning questions. It has been a long time since I put out a call for more questions, so I thought I'd do so again. I want to keep this blog relevant and a helpful resource for you, dear readers.

Perhaps first you'd like to know what topics I've already covered. There are quite a few, as it happens, though this hardly exhausts all the concerns I hear come up at my critique group and in the author collaborative I belong to.




Tell me, readers, what burning questions do you have about grammar, punctuation, or fiction writing problems you don't know how to fix?
Thursday, September 15, 2016 Laurel Garver
The new school year has begun, which always feels to me like a time for me to start new things, or in this case, restart old things.

Back in 2009, one of my critique group friends called with an urgent punctuation question. It was something pretty simple about quotes within quotes. This got me wondering if any of my blog followers have burning questions about some matter of grammar, usage, or style.

From there, I started a little series called Editor-on-call, in which I answer your burning questions. It has been a long time since I put out a call for more questions, so I thought I'd do so again. I want to keep this blog relevant and a helpful resource for you, dear readers.

Perhaps first you'd like to know what topics I've already covered. There are quite a few, as it happens, though this hardly exhausts all the concerns I hear come up at my critique group and in the author collaborative I belong to.




Tell me, readers, what burning questions do you have about grammar, punctuation, or fiction writing problems you don't know how to fix?

Thursday, September 08, 2016

I was fortunate to land a job early in my career that required me to learn graphic design. Between the professional seminars, how-to books, a very kind colleague who taught me all his best tricks, and a grad school class, I got to a level of basic competence. The more newsletters and magazine spreads and brochures I designed, the more my skills improved.

All that to say, even words people can learn some of the basics of design. You don't need an art degree to attempt to create marketing graphics (though seminars and how-to books are a good idea, so you understand composition, balance and the like).

These days, you don't even need the pricey software I learned on (Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator). There are a number of freeware solutions that will enable you to create very attractive designs. They aren't as powerful as the pricey design products, but they also aren't nearly as complicated to learn (I'm looking at you, Photoshop).

Photo editing


GIMP is a great, basic photo editor, available free, that allows you to not only resize images, but also tweak the colors and use layer masks--one of Photoshop's most powerful tools. Check out GIMP's tutorials page for instructions on using some of these more advanced options. Because it is open-source software, there are lots of cool plug-ins you can get from third parties to make the software even more powerful. Check out the 20 best free GIMP plug ins to start.

Layout


Canva is my new favorite toy. This powerful web-based design platform has lots of free design elements, premade designs, and great, easy-to-use tools to make quick marketing graphics.

Once you login--you can do so easily by linking with a Facebook or Google account--pick the type of element you want--a blog graphic, social media post (Twitter-friendly designs are under this heading), card, poster, etc. This will create a live working area in the correct size for your needs.

From there, you can select one of their premade designs, or you can assemble something freestyle. The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING is editable. It's kind of crazy. You can upload your own photos, pull them into the live area and resize them, flip them, turn them on a jaunty angle. The backgrounds come with textures and colors, but these are editable too. You can change the colors, even the opacity.

You can layer in shapes and text. And wow do they offer a lot of very cool pre-make text elements that are, once again, editable (made larger and smaller, different color, different typeface). Pick the shape that will work well with your message, then simply change the pre-made text to your words, and edit any other attribute as needed. Let me give you a couple examples, from my fairly quick and easy noodling efforts:


This is a standard Twitter-post size. I used one of Canva's free photos, expanding it until it was the right width--the program automatically cropped it to fit in the live area. I dropped in "heading" text element on the left, then changed the typeface to "Emily's Candy" (is that not a great font name?) and played with the color mixer until I had a nice crimson that reflected the raspberries. The black text is the standard "subheading" type, 



This design uses an uploaded image I got from the free image site, morguefile.com. The text graphic is a pre-made that I edited by adding my own text and changing the color of the border to echo the apple. The #1linewed (one line Wednesday, a weekly Twitter party for writers) theme this week was "school," so I had fun doing themed thank you graphics.



This is perhaps the most complex design I've attempted so far. I got the 3D book covers using the free 3D cover designer available from Adazing (warning--you will get a lot of e-mail ads from them in exchange for the free design). Each of these I uploaded. Because they have some white around them to accommodate the drop shadow, I stuck with a white background. The text elements are, top to bottom, subheading, body text, and heading. Only the heading text did I significantly edit, changing to a brush-syle typeface and tweaking the color. I now know how to fine-tune my color choices more, so I will likely do some revisions to this ad for my book series.

It's easy to do permutations of a design by making a copy on an additional page, change an element or two and see which you like better. When you're ready to post the image elsewhere, use the share button, or download. If you have permutations and want to download only one, click "options" in the download menu, and pick just the page you want. 

Anyway, That's a little taste of some of the fun things you can do to jazz up your blog posts, Twitter posts, or Facebook posts. Follow me on Twitter @LaurelGarver to see what new experiments I dream up.

Have I convinced you to try out some of these tools? Do you enjoy design or find it intimidating?
Thursday, September 08, 2016 Laurel Garver
I was fortunate to land a job early in my career that required me to learn graphic design. Between the professional seminars, how-to books, a very kind colleague who taught me all his best tricks, and a grad school class, I got to a level of basic competence. The more newsletters and magazine spreads and brochures I designed, the more my skills improved.

All that to say, even words people can learn some of the basics of design. You don't need an art degree to attempt to create marketing graphics (though seminars and how-to books are a good idea, so you understand composition, balance and the like).

These days, you don't even need the pricey software I learned on (Quark, Photoshop, Illustrator). There are a number of freeware solutions that will enable you to create very attractive designs. They aren't as powerful as the pricey design products, but they also aren't nearly as complicated to learn (I'm looking at you, Photoshop).

Photo editing


GIMP is a great, basic photo editor, available free, that allows you to not only resize images, but also tweak the colors and use layer masks--one of Photoshop's most powerful tools. Check out GIMP's tutorials page for instructions on using some of these more advanced options. Because it is open-source software, there are lots of cool plug-ins you can get from third parties to make the software even more powerful. Check out the 20 best free GIMP plug ins to start.

Layout


Canva is my new favorite toy. This powerful web-based design platform has lots of free design elements, premade designs, and great, easy-to-use tools to make quick marketing graphics.

Once you login--you can do so easily by linking with a Facebook or Google account--pick the type of element you want--a blog graphic, social media post (Twitter-friendly designs are under this heading), card, poster, etc. This will create a live working area in the correct size for your needs.

From there, you can select one of their premade designs, or you can assemble something freestyle. The amazing thing is that EVERYTHING is editable. It's kind of crazy. You can upload your own photos, pull them into the live area and resize them, flip them, turn them on a jaunty angle. The backgrounds come with textures and colors, but these are editable too. You can change the colors, even the opacity.

You can layer in shapes and text. And wow do they offer a lot of very cool pre-make text elements that are, once again, editable (made larger and smaller, different color, different typeface). Pick the shape that will work well with your message, then simply change the pre-made text to your words, and edit any other attribute as needed. Let me give you a couple examples, from my fairly quick and easy noodling efforts:


This is a standard Twitter-post size. I used one of Canva's free photos, expanding it until it was the right width--the program automatically cropped it to fit in the live area. I dropped in "heading" text element on the left, then changed the typeface to "Emily's Candy" (is that not a great font name?) and played with the color mixer until I had a nice crimson that reflected the raspberries. The black text is the standard "subheading" type, 



This design uses an uploaded image I got from the free image site, morguefile.com. The text graphic is a pre-made that I edited by adding my own text and changing the color of the border to echo the apple. The #1linewed (one line Wednesday, a weekly Twitter party for writers) theme this week was "school," so I had fun doing themed thank you graphics.



This is perhaps the most complex design I've attempted so far. I got the 3D book covers using the free 3D cover designer available from Adazing (warning--you will get a lot of e-mail ads from them in exchange for the free design). Each of these I uploaded. Because they have some white around them to accommodate the drop shadow, I stuck with a white background. The text elements are, top to bottom, subheading, body text, and heading. Only the heading text did I significantly edit, changing to a brush-syle typeface and tweaking the color. I now know how to fine-tune my color choices more, so I will likely do some revisions to this ad for my book series.

It's easy to do permutations of a design by making a copy on an additional page, change an element or two and see which you like better. When you're ready to post the image elsewhere, use the share button, or download. If you have permutations and want to download only one, click "options" in the download menu, and pick just the page you want. 

Anyway, That's a little taste of some of the fun things you can do to jazz up your blog posts, Twitter posts, or Facebook posts. Follow me on Twitter @LaurelGarver to see what new experiments I dream up.

Have I convinced you to try out some of these tools? Do you enjoy design or find it intimidating?