Literary Terms: "P" is for Paradox

Literary terms are often tricky for students. So I came up with this guide for the perplexed. Paradox - a statement that is apparently self-contradictory or absurd, but really contains a possible truth. Sometimes the term is applied to a self- contradictory false proposition. It is also used to describe an opinion or statement which is contrary to generally accepted ideas. Often, a paradox is used to make a reader consider the point in a new way.

The term is from the Greek paradoxos, meaning “contrary to received opinion” or “expectation.” Here is a list of cogent examples. 
The child is father to the man
William Wordsworth,
“Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood,” 1807
They have ears, but do not hear !
Psalm 115

Cowards die many times before their deaths
Bill Shakespeare, Julius Caesar Act II, scene ii : line 32

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

George Orwell, Animal Farm

I can resist anything except temptation
Oscar Wilde

Death, thou shalt die
John Donne, "Death, Be Not Proud"

An example of a paradox in everyday speech:
Deep down, he's really very shallow

Theological Paradox: Christ died so we may have life!

Paradoxical Dialogue:

Me: What is better than eternal bliss?
You: Nothing.
Me: But a slice of bread is better than nothing.
You: So a slice of bread is better than eternal bliss.

Common Paradox:
Nobody goes to that restaurant; it's too crowded.

Time Machine Paradox:
A girl goes into the past and kills her Grandmother.
Since her Grandmother is dead, the girl was never born. If she were never born, she never killed her grandmother.

Physics Paradox
What happens if you are in a car going the speed of light and you turn the headlights on?

Nota Bene:
When a paradox is compressed into two words, as in “loud," silence,” “lonely crowd,” or “living dead,” it is called an OXYMORON.

For teachers:

I made a minilesson available on TpT 

Literary Terms: Paradoxes, Contradictions, and Oxymorons (Minilesson) 

The resource includes the following nifty features for a Minilesson:
  • 2-sided handout on paradoxes, contradictions, and oxymorons
  • 15 quotes and example from literature and other common sources
  • 1 "Further Reading" guide to take your students to the next level

Word Diary: How I Discovered Coded Languages Like "Pig Latin" and "King Tut" as a Child (And As an Adult Learned More About Their History)

In this post (which is an update of the original post I wrote in 2009), I write about the use of encoded words and phrases that have meaning only to the initiated — or, put in another way — how we can even understand each other at all! If you think about it — words are just sounds, aural signifiers that are inert, the utterances of our vocal cords. But put into context, into meaning, and then voila — we have utterances that can break through the void and become language.

Nonsensical Languages in Linguistic Terms

Nonsensical languages are so much fun. Nonsensical in the linguistic sense, that the use of words, syntax, order of words, encoded meanings, enact a playful dynamic to undercut the formal use of the dominant language form and to lay bare the construct of language, how it works and operates. You know you are a fan of the nonsensical if you can enjoy Lewis Carrol's "The Jabberwocky." I am stunned that I understand what a vorpal sword is and chortle. Amazing. Simply amazing.

The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
      And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
      He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Most of the words in this poem are completely made-up. They are neologisms. It was only recently, after they entered the dominant language, that words like chortle and snort came into the main as "English words". But coded languages do not only appear in poetry. Look to the child's playground. Or other social spaces where the need to speak in secret emerges. Do you remember Pig Latin as a kid? I-ay o-day! We used to speak Pig Latin in the schoolyard so we could say bad words. Uck-fay ou-yay!

King Tut

"Hello" in King Tut Language
But, what about King Tut language? I stumbled upon this coded language* several years ago, working as a page in a public library - you come across a plethora of arcane, but useful books.

King Tut is a language I read about as a child in a book by Paul Dickson — it involves taking all consonants and simply doubling them and inserting a "U" in the middle. It works like code. Vowels are pronounced as usual. Here is the alphabet:

King Tut Letters

A, Bub, Coy, Dud, E, Fuf, Gug, Huh (or Hoy), I, Juj (or Joy), Kuk, Lul, Mum, Nun, O, Pup, Quk, Rur (or Roy), Sus, Tut, U, Vuv, Wuw (or Woy), Xux, Yuk (or Yoy), Zuz

Double Letters

If a letter is doubled, like in "book" you say bub-o-square-kuk.
"Hello, How are you?"
in King Tut is rendered
"Huh-e-lul-square-o, Huh-o-wuw a-rur-e yuk-o?" 
When King Tut is spoken it is unintelligible only to the uninitiated. It sounds like complete nonsense. But once you understand the code (i.e., the rules,), it's meaning becomes clear. Once you learn how it works, the code is broken and you can understand it. I have taught coded languages like King Tut to my freshman English class to impress upon them the artificial construct of a language (although I don't tell them that is why I am teaching it to them). 

It is quite impressive how quickly the students can understand what I am saying once I explain the rules. And what was at first an unknown string of sounds becomes intelligible.

But — of course, coded languages come into being for a purpose. And while I did not at first know the origins of King Tut, I learned about it as a coded language that was used by enslaved peoples in North America.

Update (August 2021):
I wrote about King Tut Language on my blog in 2009. I first read about it in the 1990s when I was a kid — reading about it in a book by Paul Dickson. Subsequently, I have learned that Tut Language has its origins in American slavery. Enslaved people used Tut to communicate amongst themselves and to practice literacy without being caught. Tutnese, or Tallehash, is way more complex in its original form than the modified version I learned. In fact, the alphabet I learned as a kid most likely is not Tut’s original form. When speaking in Tut, or writing in Tut, the coded words appeared unintelligible to outsiders; this allowed enslaved persons to speak, write, and practice literacy without being punished — as learning to read and write was forbidden by slaveholders. Enslaved people fought against their masters and learned in secret, and in code — in a way that shows the resiliency and tenacity of the human spirit. I apologize for my ignorance in originally writing this post, thinking that Tut was a child's language (like Pig Latin). It has a much richer history. And one that seems to be getting noticed as people start learning more about their individual histories.

Thank you to Gloria McIlwain's book "Tut Language" — it was the book that I read that introduced me to the Tut language's history and origins. Check it out if you wish to learn more. Here is the pronunciation table she provides (using the phonetic alphabet):
McIlwain, Gloria. “Tut Language.” American Speech, vol. 69, no. 1, 1994, pp. 111–112.
*(thanks to Dickson's Word Treasury by Paul Dickson)
Also, thanks to Wordie


H is for Home

A tile from my ceiling fell to the floor
Parts of the drop ceiling in my apartment fell in the kitchen.
Is it trite to speak of home? Cliché, maybe. But, home resonates. At the moment my home is in disarray.

Case in point: last night, plaster from the ceiling crumbled and fell in hard portions on the kitchen linoleum. I did not wake up from the din, but I was startled in the morning (in between brushing my teeth and finding a perfect maroon tie) to find the kitchen bespectacled with jagged chunks of plaster. "Is there a rodent in my attic?" I asked myself, half startled and half bemused.

Going from the ramshackle that is my apartment, to the structure of school, I enter another home: a weird conglomeration of bells and roving students, lecturing professors, and due dates, exams, lunches and recess. School is a strange form of home that merely serves as another version -- but for me, a strange anodyne -- and I cringe to confess this fact, because one's vocation is not supposed to be one's home.

Do I find myself grading papers, only to look at the clock notice it is already six o'clock?

This is the tragedy of home as school. Alas, my life is fail. Or, as one of my students would say, "Epic Fail! I hate my life!"

So, today, to rectify this unhappy occasion, I set out to spruce up my "home" and make sure next week I will not end up sleeping at my professor's desk.

My task before me is to make my home the same as it was in August. I notice the pile of dishes hidden beneath the shorn plaster. I notice books unread. And OMG! I have to complete those homework assignments and finish reading those essays.

I stop for a second, in the middle of writing this first installment of an alphabiography, which I have decided to impose on myself as an assignment -- I figure if I am making my students complete this project, I might as well do the same  I have until October 15th  eeekkk and I probably have loads of grammar and spelling mistakes. Is there anything here that is home? True home? Not artificial or cliché home? The sound of the streetcar whizzing by frequently and hurriedly? Is it the fresh pot of coffee I worship every morning  to quote Anne Sexton -- "All this is God, right here in my pea green house."

Home is an unhurried thing. Is it metaphysical? Probably not. Is it the edifice of a house? Or is it the collection of a family? The association of friends?

I know one thing is true: home is unequivocally the evocative longing to diminish the alone. It is the wish of the solitude to unite with the One. It is the prayer of the worshipful to unite with their God. It is the hope of the teacher to successfully complete one more successful assignment; it is the proper buttering of the toast; the perfect rendering of prose into poetry, the sublime nature of one's hope (albeit striving) for ? ... and that is where I stumble ... lost again in the mystery of home.

I do have one final concrete image for those out there who detest abstract thought. The apple pie Americans who need a palpable definition. Home is where the heart is? Home is on the range. Home is for breakfast. Home fries. Homie. Dog. G. Out.

Life Lesson:
Home is what you make it. Ahh, isn't that trite enough? But, I think I will go and wash those dishes (yeah, right he says).


Greig Roselli's 100th Post on Stones Of Erasmus

The one-hundredth post of anything should not go unrecognized. You could say, "What the hell? One hundred posts? Who cares?" I will not think less of you. Blog posts should be celebrated, however. Stones of Erasmus launched in 2005.

Posts when I first started blogging were rare. My energy was relegated to other writing projects. The blog here gained momentum last August when I posted my road trip across America.
Railroad Tracks in Lebeau © Google Maps

I am posting the one-hundredth blog from Bordelonville, LA. I decided to journey with Tony, Andre, Cherie, Ricky, Michelle, Michael, Samuel, and Eddie (a Shih Tzu mix) to the country for the Bordelonville Church Fair. When we cross the railroad track in Lebeau everyone must sing, "We're in the country now! We're in the country now! High-Ho-the-Cherry-Oh we're in the country now!" In Bordenlonville we feasted on cracklins, jambalaya and tried our luck playing twenty-five cent Bingo. The big prize was a twenty-five dollar gift certificate to Glamour Puss in downtown Bordelonville.

From the Desk of a High School English Teacher: Teacher Gripe Session from the Trenches

It is the fifth week ending of a second-year teaching odyssey. I am a high school English teacher and I am feeling the real effects of teacher burnout.
TikTok video of a boy in chinos and a blue hoodie dancing.
Kids are more in tune with the recent trends than reading texts from Ancient Literature. #butimnotcomplaining
     I am thrice-cursed: 1.) I must contend every workday with a barrage of students who hold fast to their own cultural icons: Captain Underpants, Sponge Bob, and Family Guy more than they do the Iliad and the Odyssey. Life Lesson: Popular Culture connects with Ancient Mythology (true): Sisyphus in the Greek legend handcuffs Death. Tragic. Family Guy does the same, apparently, according to a student. 2.) I am a writer who doesn't write. Life Lesson: Teaching precludes writing. 3.) I am poor so send me money. Life Lesson: Enter a poetry contest.


Movie Review: In Juno (2007) Jason Reitman Attempts to Make Us Feel Genuine Emotion

(starring Ellen Page and Michael Cera)
Maybe it was director Jason Reitman's sleight of hand that actually got to me rather than genuine sentiment, but I have begun to distrust how a film makes me feel. I have acquired an impervious lamella toward film; I had seen Juno back in 2007 and found this review that I had never posted. Literature to me has become false emotional catharsis (probably comes from reading way too much film theory) but it probably actually has more to do with the fact that most films really SUCK at pulling off true human emotion. Probably the last great American movie of genuine, gut-wrench sentiment was Ordinary People. But, for the most part, American movies are saccharine sweet and two-dimensional.

After that scathing report on American Cinema, I will not actually talk about Juno
I have to admit, though, the first ten minutes did not reel me in as I thought it would, based on the Ebert review I did in fact read. The film too much reminded me of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, that I was afraid that the film would never rise about the artifice of clever dialogue and impeccable mise-en-scene. A Wes Anderson flick is so obsessive compulsive in set design, that it is as if the props were meant to be fetishistic totems rather than set pieces.
Jennifer Garner's character Vanessa aspires to be the mother
of the child of a pregnant teenager (played by Ellen Page) 
I thought I was getting way too deep into the Anderson kitsch with this film, especially when the titular character (Ellen Page), a newly impregnated teen, her adolescent tummy bulging deliberately to smack the viewer in the face, chugs a cheery load of Sunny D and lashes out smart-ass comebacks to the convenience store clerk (a great cameo by Rainn Wilson). Wilson spouts out snappy one-liners when the knocked-up teen shows up to buy a home pregnancy test: “That ain't no Etch-A-Sketch. This is one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet. ” Those lines alone should be placed on the Hollywood walk of fame or something.
Not to ruin anything, there are no spoilers here, but I thought the most affecting scene in the entire film is Jennifer Garner, the would-be mother, placing her head to Juno’s belly to hear the baby move. That to me made the film. Oh, if every film had such a moment of sheer beauty, I will want to embrace cinema again and perhaps re-love catharsis.

An Interview with My Former Self (When I Was a Benedictine Monk)

When I was a Benedictine monk, I was interviewed by a high school student for his school project. His teacher had asked him to interview a person who had undergone a life changing odyssey. Here is the transcript of the interview.
Fr. Raphael often smoked a cigarette after Mass.

1. Describe your odyssey, spiritual, mental, or physical. You told me, Luke, that you are reading the Odyssey by Homer. So, it seems to make sense to start from there: “Sing to me,” the poet says to the muses at the beginning of the poem, invoking their help (who, I assume, stand in for the gods, or God). The spiritual longing alluded to in being “sung to” by the gods is intoxicating. Desiring the muses' song describes my odyssey the best. The “mental part” as you put it, is figuring out what the heck the gods are trying to say! And the physical part most likely boils down to the daily decision to get up, physically, in the morning. That, my friend, is an odyssey enough!
2. What was your childhood like? My childhood was for the most part pretty unassuming. I grew up in a suburban town, mainly middle-class. But, as a child, I had a very active imagination. And I spent an awful lot of hours daydreaming and reading books and listening to records. I loved stories and music as a child and I was very much active in drama and performing.
3. Did your childhood inspire your odyssey in any way? I think my childhood was most influential in that I was introduced to the world of knowledge — a world that has become my life’s mainstay. The greatest gift my parents gave to me was bringing me to the Public library and teaching me how to pray. I think my childhood introduction to libraries and an early memory of going to Church, influenced me more than I realize. That was the good part of my childhood. The difficulties of childhood also influenced me too. I learned from my childhood, that childhood is not perfect. In fact, we spend most of our adult life figuring out what the heck actually happened to us as kids.
4. Were you influenced by anyone to go on your odyssey? My mother read to me stories from books, when I was a little child. I think this profoundly influenced me. Also, she was probably the first person to teach me about God. She taught me that God was like a loving father. This too had profound — and also difficult — ramifications for me in later life. Also, my godmother was very influential for me. She taught me to follow my dreams but cautioned me that it would not always be easy. She told me that to pursue your desires often entails heartache, sweat, and a little bit of blood. I am thankful for her does of realism coupled with her undaunting affirmation and love for me.
5. How old were you when you found out your calling? Well, I can remember when I was about fifteen years old I wanted to do something that brought me closer to God and also strengthened my mind. I went on a retreat to a monastery and felt that the monk’s dedication to “love of learning and their desire for God” was an attractive aspect of their life. I have to admit, I did have an overly romantic view of monastic life as a young kid. And now that I am older, I don’t think I am as easily swept away by such ideals. Perhaps, I have learned along the way to acquire some of Odysseus’s practical intelligence.
6. How did your family and friends react when you told them? Well, family members really did not understand. My mother was dead set against it. My brothers were okay, but they figured it was kind of a strange decision. My father really did not have much to say, except telling me, “Do what you feel will make you happy.” My friends are very supportive but some of my friends question the validity of what they feel is an archaic lifestyle. I think they just wanted me to be happy and not make any foolish decisions.
7. Was it hard when you first began? Yes. I packed my bags several times. In fact, it still can be a difficult journey. I don’t believe our journeys are ever free from difficulties. If they were they would cease to be journeys.
8. Did you receive help from anyone who did the same or a similar journey you did? Yes, I have been blessed to have many mentors along the way. I don’t think I have ever had such a great guide as Athena in the Odyssey, but I have come close. There was one monk who told me that when he joined the monastery, he had no idea what he was really getting into. I think that is a great metaphor for life! Do we truly know what we are getting ourselves into? Hah. Probably not.
9. Would you help someone the same way they helped you? Of course. I believe helping a person find their own odyssey is a good thing. An odyssey should not be imposed on a person. That would not be a good thing. People are ready when they are ready. We all have to find our own way in the world. And a little bit of “help from our friends,” to quote that famous Rock song, helps tremendously along the way. In fact, the times I have helped people has in fact been some of the most pleasurable and enjoyable times of my life.
10. Was there a major hardship during your odyssey? Well, the life I lead now precludes me from having a significant love relationship and a family. While, I knew this going into monastic life, sometimes, the lack of a significant other and the prospect of adopting children of my own, has proven to be a hardship at times. But, looking back on my life thus far, I am amazed at what my life has granted to me thus far. I am very grateful. And I am very much interested in what the future will bring.
11. Do you ever look back and want to change anything you did or didn't do? I don’t regret the past. My fears have more to do with the future. You know, like, plans and hopes for my future that are not yet realized.
12. If you could pick one thing to change what would it be? Well, I would have liked to have been born French because I really enjoy French and consider myself a francophile but I have to consign myself to the reality that I am a Louisianian which is close enough! But, seriously, to answer your question, I have been plagued with this question often enough to realize that it leads me nowhere. There are, of course, many things I could change or would desire to change. But a person can go mad spending time dwelling on that stuff.
13. Was your journey always tough, or were there any enjoyable moments? Of course, there were many enjoyable moments. Enjoyment is something I think highly of!!! It is funny though when I think back on my life thus far I tend to think more about the good stuff. I often marvel at how I was even able to manage myself through the difficult stuff even though while it was happening I did not think the same way. One of the most difficult years for me was my junior year abroad when I studied in Europe under the most difficult professors at the University I attended. I was stunned when I got my grades in and saw that I had passed.
14. If so, name the most predominant one. Well, like I said, when I graduated from college with my degree in Philosophy, I was very proud of myself and felt an enormous surge of satisfaction. But also, I have had many enjoyable moments. On an intimate level, the most enjoyable moments have been with my friends on several travels and vacations I have been able to take.
15. Once you were finished your odyssey, how did you feel? Well, Luke, I am not finished yet!! What are you trying to do? Put me in an early grave?! I like to think of life as an enormous Odyssey.
16. Have you ever regret doing it? No regrets. It is too costly to think that way.
17. How has it changed your life? Well, I think I would have led a lonelier life if it had not been for this journey that I am on now. I think by nature, I am a free-spirit, so my decision to become a Benedictine is at first a strange one, because of the constraints put on a monk’s life — but at the same time, my life has helped me to hone my free-spirit nature in ways that I never imagined.
18. How has it helped you in the certain area? (physical, mental, spiritual). I think I am by nature a mental and a spiritual person. I think I chose the life I lead because it matches already (more or less) what is inside of me. Not that there are other things I could be doing but I tend to gravitate toward activities that I already have a natural aptitude.
19. Were these changes for better or worse? The life I lead does not always privilege the physical aspects of life. Running jumping swimming, etc. This change poses a challenge. I often have to force myself to think outside of the mental and the spiritual and just plunge into the physical activity of life. Sometimes this just means closing my book and going outside. So a goal of mine is to try to remain more physically active and not remain sedentary.
20. Are you glad you don’t have to take on your odyssey again? Once this odyssey is finished, I think I will be ready to pack my bags.
An interview with Bede Greig Roselli, OSB by Luke Bernard


Software Review: Reasons Why I Like Snow Leopard (and three things I am still waiting for)

In this blog post learn lots of reasons I really like the new Mac OS X operating system, Snow Leopard.
  • The colors on OS X have always been clean but Snow Leopard’s color scheme is purer. Or is it just me?
  • The new preview rocks! I can now copy from a PDF document that has two columns without copying both sides! Wow. Thank God for small favors.
  • I love being able to browse through files easily to find what I want; now I can even flip through a PDF or watch a movie within the icon. Now, that is just freakinglicious.
  • More room! I just regained seven gigabytes of hard drive space. More room for True Blood and Fraggle Rock!
  • The best new addition to Snow Leopard is ummmmm ... I love new editions! Does that count?
  • Price! $29.99 if you already own Leopard
:-( Third party apps really suffer. I am afraid to use Onyx or Typinator since I read online that many developers have not yet souped up their programs for Snow Leopard.

:-( I wish they would have made Leopard like this the first time around.

:-( And come on: Snow Leopard? How lame. Although it is better sounding than Windows 7.

:-( I know there is a new tweak to services but I am not sure what it is. Urggghhh. And I am not a big fan of stacks. I thought there would be more manipulability (if that is a word).