Saturday, November 22, 2008

It's Thanksgiving--So Let's Talk Guajalote

The Blogymology (Blog + Etymology)
I felt particularly enlightened in a college Spanish class to learn that quite a few names in English and Spanish for native animals and foods, especially those ending with “-ate” or “-ote,” come from Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

Try coyote and ocelot (ocelote in Spanish). Originally coyotl and tlalocelotl in Nahuatl, they’re animals indigenous to this continent. Then we have foods like chocolate (xocoltl, from xococ, bitter, and atl, water), tomato (from Spanish tomate, from Nahuatl tomatl, meaning swelling fruit), and elote, a Spanish word for corn, coming from the Aztec word elotl. Avocado is a folk etymology (meaning someone heard the original word wrong and turned it into something more familiar) for Spanish aguacate, coming from Nahuatl ahuakatl.

Now, after all the preamble, let’s combine food and animal and talk turkey. That is, in Spanish, guajalote. Which is borrowed from Nahuatl huexolotl.

Unlike tomatl to tomate to tomato, obviously we didn’t turn guajolote into an English word like waholo or something like that. Why not? Why turkey? Part of the reason probably lies in the fact that turkeys weren’t first eaten by Europeans on their home ground. Instead, Europeans first imported the birds from the Americas in the 1500’s. Incorrectly thinking the fowl came from the same family as some other delectable birds which they (also incorrectly) thought came from Turkey, they assigned the name turkey.

So now we talk turkey instead of waholo or guajalote or huexolotl. I don’t know; I think talking huexolotl sounds intriguing…. Let’s talk huexolotl.


The Book
I define “talking turkey” in terms of other idiomatic expressions like cutting to the chase or getting down to the nitty gritty or getting to the business at hand without beating around the bush. Eoin Colfer’s lead character Fletcher Moon in the middle-grade mystery Half-Moon Investigations is a twelve-year-old detective chagrined by his weaknesses (wimpiness, uncoolness, etc.) but compelled by his strength, detecting, and he tells his story in detective straight talk. In other words, he talks turkey. It’s a fun book with unexpected twists, turns and friendships, and I’ll look for the next one in the series.

To learn more about Eoin (pronounced "Owen") Colfer, go to

Monday, November 10, 2008

Exploration: Final Frontiers

The Introduction

To wrap up October's Exploration theme, I asked doctor and writer Rene Allen to share some thoughts, as her personal and professional experience seemed to lend themselves well to the topic. You may also want to explore her article on Tucson's Rattlesnake Bridge in the October 2008 issue of Highlights Magazine. Thank you, Rene.

The Blog

When I was young, Disney produced “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” It has since been remade, but seems lackluster to my memory of that first cinematic adventure to the earth’s core and its many remarkable discoveries. The exit route was also dramatic – I recall a sort of cup made of stone containing the explorers and a blast from a volcano.

Sarah has asked I share a few thoughts on this kind of exploration that takes us to the inside, in this case, to the core and center of ourselves where the landscape is mutable and where you, too, will make remarkable discoveries.

On this trip, we may study the geography of memory. There will be mountains and valleys, vistas of swelling emotional recall and those which flit passed with only small tugs at our heartstrings. A well-known character from literature whose seasonal remembrance is almost here, Ebenezer Scrooge, was deeply touched as he was taken by the Spirit of Christmas Past back to his own childhood. Many of us hold unresolved in memory pieces and chunks of our childhood that can be like landminds in some circumstances, going off with an emotional ker-bang that leaves us stunned. Returning to such memories is not for the faint-hearted or ill-supported, yet they often demand one way or another we return and finish the business of growing up.

There is also the landscape of contemplation, of search for answers and truth, where you let your mind wander, permit it to construct for you the solution to whatever problem frustrates the surface of your existence. The answer is often a spontaneous thought that comes unexpectedly, as a whisper or image, perhaps, but also having a kind of resonance that it is, indeed, the solution you are seeking. This is the kind of pleasant journeying through the unconscious that is whacked into hiding by anxiety and the perfectionist’s need to always be right. It is a tender, fragile thing, and requires serenity to flourish.

There is also the exciting landscape of creativity. Here is where, with you in the director’s chair and your mind the screen of your own talent and creativity, you let go, trust the process, and watch and listen and feel. Then through your own vision, through your fingers and ears and eyes, you translate, produce, and refine. Your inner landscape has evolved, been changed and solidified. You have made it real, turned it into story or art or music or whatever and shared it.

The thrill, I believe, is similar to that last wild ride from the center of the earth on the breath of a volcano.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Explore this Nonfiction

The Brief Blog
I've got the in-a-hurry-but-not-quite-done feeling about October's Exploration theme. I'm in a hurry because it's November and I'm behind again, but I'm not quite done with October. In fact, I'm still looking forward to a guest blog on October's theme--so in the meantime, I'm going to add in my suggestions for adult exploration reads.

The Books
I love finding nonfiction that grips and propels me through the book--something I expect in fiction but which surprises me in nonfiction. Here are three engaging, relatively short "exploration" reads:

Longitude, by Dava Sobel: Longitude recounts the late 18th century race to find a reliable way for sailors to determine their longitude, thus preventing the frequent tragedy and economic loss that stemmed from ships perpetually being lost. John Harrison, an English clockmaker, found a solution but then had to battle the academic establishment for decades to gain recognition for his accomplishment. I couldn't put it down.

The Wild Muir, edited by Lee Stetson: Tales told in John Muir's own words of his adventures and explorations from sliding down an upper-story slate roof in his childhood Scotland to riding an avalanche in the Sierras. One of my all-time favorite books.

Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Written by Charles Lindbergh's wife, this is a must-read for women. With its gentle allegory of the ocean, the book illuminates how to find balance between personal fulfillment and external obligation...definitely falls in the "internal exploration" category. I reread it whenever I need grounding.

The End! (for now (: )