The List Grows

Posted: July 23rd, 2023 under the writing life.
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Those of you hanging out here and commenting often ask questions or impart information that tweaks my brain and gives me new ideas.  I can’t begin to give a whole list of examples, but several in the comments to the previous post are doing that this morning.  And I had already started a list of things to look up when my OED comes.  (The nuances of difference between identification by seal, design, sigil, mark…just as a start.)   Viking stuff was never my area of study in college…I first read a translation of some sagas years later, without any real discussion.   I think I need some books as well as the OED to clarify my understanding of just how different (or not) Viking culture is/was from Germanic, eastern Baltic, Anglo-Saxon, and which words come from, or were filtered by, which.  This is getting exciting-er and exciting-er, says the child who never quit wanting to understand *everything*.   I have Lear’s work on the difference between the concept of treason in Roman and German cultures (one of the foundations on which I built Paks’s world…still visible in the US, by the way.  The influence of Roman thought in our foundation is very clear, and the influence of Germanic ideals of *personal* loyalty to a leader rather than loyalty to the abstract law/Constitution is very clear in politicians of the Trumpian stripe…antithetical to the concept of a constitutional Republic.

So that’s another set of words to dig into.  How it will emerge in fiction…I don’t know yet.  But I know my fiction has always needed deep cultural roots, well entangled with one another.   If getting back in the room with the most academic of the books, and reviewing the books I used that first two years of writing Paks , and playing with the Big Kids’ dictionary cleans up some of the head injury damage to brain function from the injuries…excellent.  And fun, in any case.

Now back over to the fiction side of life; I’ve been alternating this with stretches of editing in Horngard, with the notes I made when my agent called right beside me.


  • Comment by Marian — July 24, 2023 @ 3:25 am


    “to clarify my understanding of just how different (or not) Viking culture is/was from Germanic, eastern Baltic, Anglo-Saxon” – considerably.
    Wikipedia is a good place to start – buzz words, maps, and a lot of possible references. Otherwise, googling for your topic and add”scholar” will give you reputable information – probably more than you need 😛
    Possible references (use the references)

  • Comment by Linda — July 24, 2023 @ 10:50 am


    WOW on the difference between loyalty to the Constitution and to individual leaders.

    That says so much.

    As a librarian and English Major whose favorite course was History of the English Language the OED is foundational.


  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 24, 2023 @ 1:58 pm


    This is what I like about your writing. It has that depth. What I am now trying to work through for my own works is “hung up” in those depths, trying to get the back story ties “just right” with all sort of these nuances for different groups. Your particular enunciation has given me cause to stick with it “the hard way”. It’ll be better in the end.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 24, 2023 @ 4:29 pm


    I hope your work-in-progress cooperates with you.

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — July 24, 2023 @ 5:29 pm


    Hi – just a quick note to stay cool as I see that the heat wave is continuing – I hope the horses are OK.

    And yes, there is nothing like a good dictionary. I like when you see 6 or 7 different definitions for the same word that are not related.

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 24, 2023 @ 5:32 pm


    There’s a factor in the change that I had not considered before I read (re-read, actually) a book by Stephen Prothero, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know–and Doesn’t. He connects some things I sorta kinda knew about US history in a way that casts light on that change: before the Revolution, US religion among Europeans here was *largely* not just Protestant Christianity, but specifically Calvinist, “Puritan,” and thus committed to education–and due to the Enlightenment, that meant for the educated familiarity with “classical” history: even if only, like Shakespeare, with “small Latin and lesse Greek.” Education–formal education–was highly valued both by freethinkers and churchgoers. Thus the men who created the Constitution were familiar with one thing the Romans had that they wanted: one system of law to bind them all, one system of law that would guarantee individual rights across state borders. Their parents & grandparents had been through religious wars, and considered them a major barrier to creating a country out of disparate parts. Hence the insistence on having a Bill of Rights, and a promise that the nation would never impose religious specifics on anyone. A citizen was free to travel from state to state without hindrance and in any of those would have the same basic rights even if the became mostly a different church from the others. With a Calvinist majority and a commitment by enough of them to formal education, that’s what passed: the very Roman concept of obedience to The Law, to respect for the office and not the individual in it (so the person who’s elected, even if you don’t like him, has the authority of that office) and the resulting respect for election results and the peaceful transfer of power.

    Then came the Great Awakening of evangelicalism, which involved a repudiation of education (esp. of clergy) and an elevation of “feeling,” “experience,” and “enthusiasm” among those affected. Which spread with the new country’s growth to undergird a general anti-intellectualism, a distrust of educated people…and overtaking (except for Catholicism, a formidable opponent with a structure adapted to accept some “enthusiasm” within the authoritarianism of its top-down theology.) It took Catholicism almost two full centuries to penetrate the secular structure sufficiently to get its supermajority on SCOTUS, making cause with evangelicals on a case-by-case basis, whatever worked. It remains to be seen if evangelicalism unmoored from formal theology can retain the impulsion and any of the values of Calvinish + Enlightenment in any future US government. Or will it have to go through the tyrant/anarchy cycle several times (or longer) first. If I were not an interested party with a dog in this hunt it would make one of those “interesting questions” for scholars to mull over, but as it is, and wanting my kid to survive me and not be caught in somebody’s version of the Inquisition, I don’t contemplate the next three decades with equanimity, even without climate change.

    So back to my book I go, shaking my head at how prescient Heinlein was, whatever anyone thinks of his politics. His feel for the deep currents of the American psyche continues to amaze me. (Revolt in 2100. I won’t be around for it but if it happens in 2100 somebody better throw him a party in whatever, if any, afterlife he’s in.)

  • Comment by elizabeth — July 24, 2023 @ 6:03 pm


    Thank you, Marian! Very much appreciate this! (Now it IS horse-feeding time and I’m sure my boys will be yelling at me the moment they hear the kitchen door open, let alone close. “You STARVE us, you heartless two-legged monster. Give us hay NOW!!! Is that ALL? Are you determined to starve is down to the bone?” “Nobody can FIND your bones, boys. You’re glossy and a little too plump. Here. Don’t fight over it; you know there’ll be multiple stacks!”

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — July 25, 2023 @ 1:33 pm


    I’ve just reread “If This Goes On” myself to reacquaint myself with Heinlein’s version of what I hope isn’t our near future.
    Daniel Glover

  • Comment by Chuck Gatlin — July 25, 2023 @ 2:18 pm


    LAUGHING SHALL I DIE by T. A. Shippey has a good summary of the pendulum swings in the study of and popular culture representation of Viking culture, underlining how the most recent academic consensus sometimes is further from historical accuracy and truth to the sources than more mythologized earlier consensus, especially if you can correct for the earlier biases.

  • Comment by Leslie — August 3, 2023 @ 10:14 pm


    A question about Andressat in Kings of the North. When the Count meets Arcolin and Stammel he has some of his people with him. Arcolin gives directions to Aliam’s home but after they arrive in Chaya Andressat’s Sergeant Daslin isn’t mentioned again. King’s Squires escort Andressat to Verrakai. Selfer and the cohort escort Andressat back to Valdaire. Did some mention of the people traveling with Andressat get cut? I’m wondering if there was a backstory about Andressat’s people as they traveled from Tsaia to Lyonya.

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 6, 2023 @ 9:27 pm



    It’s always possible I just failed to tie up that loose end. This will sound a bit whiny, but that book was first published in 2011, so written in 2010 at the latest, and followed by 3 more books in that group, all long and complicated, and then by the two VAtta’s Peace books, and then by the concussions in 2017 and 1018–that pair played major hob with my brain and recovery is still ongoing. I may have had a good reason for not mentioning Andressat’s escort again, or something may have happened to him, or the editor (not wildly thrilled at the length of those books) may have cut him out as unnecessary. I don’t remember for sure. There’s only the vaguest blurry sense that “something happened” and which of those it was–or if the something happened is literally what was damaged in the concussions, I don’t know. I can make guesses that are plausible, but I can’t give you a for-sure-and-certain right answer. If it was my choice that the escort wasn’t there, it was probably due to a complication of travel in an unfamiliar area: illness or death, and death might results from illness, injury, or intentional violence. Why it wasn’t detailed could (if again it was my choice and not the editor’s) I might’ve realized that detailing what happened was taking too long and wasn’t as important as getting Andressat to Halveric’s place, so he could carry Estil’s message about Aliam to Kieri, and then his own message get to Valdaire. I should, in that case, have made some quick one-sentence reference to it, but…. I just don’t know. I can’t, tonight, re-read it looking for clues…I came home from a trip to other things that must be done tonight and will take me well past midnight. Apologies.

  • Comment by Leslie — August 7, 2023 @ 9:22 pm


    Not a big deal at all about Dalsin, certainly not worth you spending time now trying to remember or find notes. I didn’t think to check the copyright when I wrote that question. I know I sometimes struggle to remember what I was thinking a year ago; and for sure wouldn’t remember 13 years ago and I haven’t hit my head!
    I’m going to read that section again, it absolutely makes sense that something may have happened to the people that left Valdaire with Andressat but didn’t make it to Chaya with him. It would also help explain Andressat’s dismay when Kieri left Chaya in the rainstorm.
    Thank you for providing a place to ask questions.

  • Comment by Leslie — August 7, 2023 @ 9:23 pm


    Well, I can’t spell, Daslin, not Dalsin. Sorry

  • Comment by Jonathan Schor — August 9, 2023 @ 6:45 am


    One more thing about the OED – I read a lot of books from Project Gutenberg and Faded Pages. Since many of these books are quite elderly there are often terms not in use today – while I do not have the OED, I do have the internet. It really does help to learn new words, even if I forget them quickly and really never have a use for them.

  • Comment by elizabeth — August 17, 2023 @ 9:41 am


    The oldest words are given their early quotations in Old English, Anglo-Saxon, Old Flemish…and I’m not a scholar of them and need to get a primer to even recognize the alphabet. I spent an hour last night with “wis”. It shows up all the way from 1000 to the 19th century, in poetry mostly, that late, but it’s got very old roots. A word that I first ran into in (I think) a Walter Scott poem (some romantic, anyway…) and afterwards associated with the somewhat precious feel of what I’d been reading, turns out to be a sturdy old Anglo-Saxon monosyllable…not in the dictionary I had then, at all, so I thought it was a lightweight, inconsequential, poetic fancy. Suddenly lines in Shakespeare and English as far back as I *can* read it make new and more important sense. I ran across it because I hauled out Volume XII and flipped it open more than half-way through just to see what was there.

    I was in Wi–on the lefthand-page “wire-drawn” with more meanings than I knew it bore, and then over on the righthand page “wis” in the middle of the page and “wisdom” as the last word (but not the end of its entry.) In between was wire-puller (in the sense of someone who draws wire through a hole to make the wire and in the sense of a puppeteer, someone who pulls wires–realor metaphorical–to control someone or something. The multiple uses of “wire-worker”. Then “wirrock” which isn’t about wires at all, but the bumps on toes that we also call corns and that may be horny calluses or actual bone growth. And then after a few more…”wis.”

    I would not have found all this online, where I’ve looked up the meaning (current) of individual words by typing them in…you have to know the word or something close to it to get the meaning. Here the two pages lay open to my curiosity.
    I could work my way down both, methodically (I didn’t.) Or I could choose based on the length of entry, or just a spelling that caught my eye (wirrock did that) or quickly exit a group of closely related words for the next “core” word…whatever struck my fancy that particular between 10:27 and 11 pm. As in an open-stack library, I could wander and browse and either shut the volume at the end, sliding it back into place, or (as I did) leave it open to look at again this morning, which I have.

    What’s a good first book for learning Old English? Any ideas?

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