Author Archives: WolfeStreetTravel
A post this morning decidedly not about travel. Instead, a wildly entertaining one on words, albeit not one of our creation. In addition to our well-established reputation as cartography geeks (and our lesser-known, but related, verve for vexillology), we’re also word nerds. (For any in doubt, we would simply point to this finely curated collection here.)
All of this simply to provide thin context for this morning’s post, pasted verbatim from an Opinion piece by John Ficara in today’s Washington Post:
“Opinion: How I wound up with a wound from heteronyms”
“The English language has something to confuse or annoy just about anyone — the mysteries of who and whom usage, the e.g. vs. i.e. standoff, the polarizing Oxford comma. I have a long-standing, personal problem with heteronyms — words that are spelled the same but don’t sound alike. Allow me to explain with a little story.
In order to graduate from the graduate program at my university, every student was required to take part in a group discussion of heteronyms. My group asked me to take the lead which, alas, went over like a lead balloon.
I now know that when trying to perfect one’s thinking for the perfect presentation on heteronyms, you must project confidence in your project and be content with the content. I was not.
Shy by nature, I do not live to give live presentations. Nor am I very articulate, so it’s always been difficult for me to articulate my points.
The teacher, as if able to intimate my most intimate fears, knew this. Like a food fighter at a buffet, he immediately began to buffet me with criticisms. He raised minute points every minute. I made a futile attempt to object to being made the object of his ridicule. I told the teacher his conduct was unacceptable and this was no way to conduct a class. He told me my arguments were invalid and I was being an emotional invalid.
As he continued to tear into me, I shed a tear.
I’m normally reluctant to attribute a negative attribute to anyone, but as I wicked away the moisture on my cheek with a tissue, I decided my teacher was a wicked man. There is no good excuse to excuse cruelty.
Meanwhile, the class took sides, and a row broke out in the back row.
Sensing I was sailing against the wind, I tried to wind up my presentation as quickly as possible.
Afterward, some classmates and I made a deliberate plan to meet so we could deliberate on what went wrong. They agreed that my big mistake was to just stand in front of the class and read what I had read. Technically, it isn’t plagiarism, but it also isn’t appropriate to appropriate others’ work.
They also agreed that my opening was poor, arguing I should have used my entrance to entrance my audience.
As this record indicates, and as history will record, my interest in heteronyms continues. But thanks to that cruel teacher, I wound up with a wound that remains to this day.”
As noted in the Post: “John Ficarra was the editor of Mad magazine from 1985 to 2018.” Indeed.
The author also narrates the piece with a killer Brooklyn accent, which you can access from the same link to the Washington Post article.
(And, after we published the post, this excellent, directly applicable addendum from Yvonne!)
As anyone who follows this blog knows, we’re weirdly enthralled with all things cartographic in Europe. Plus, we have a comparable passion for Old Town Alexandria – the undisputed best small town in America – which includes our fair city’s retrocession from the District of Columbia in the 19th century. A local cartographic legacy that is still represented by extant boundary stones in Virginia delineating the original borders of the District.
Imagine our nerdy elation upon reading a news article in today’s New York Times that involves both!
Regarding boundary stones, recall this image from our Alexandria, DC, post celebrating the anniversary of our fair city’s retrocession:
Now, compare that image with this one of the 1819 boundary stone on the Franco-Belgian border from this morning’s article:
You can read the full New York Times article here, but the essence is captured by this paragraph:
“Apparently frustrated by a 200-year-old stone border marker, a Belgian farmer dug it out and moved it about seven feet into French territory, local officials told French news media, thus slightly enlarging his own land as well as the entire country of Belgium.”