The Future – As Read in Fiction

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Books That Predicted

the Future

With Eerie Accuracy

When authors write about the future, they have to predict what technology and life might be like decades down the road. While the books are often written as a metaphor for their contemporary society, some authors have made amazingly accurate predictions about what modern life has actually become.

 These are all fiction books that, somehow, managed to predict the future. 

10. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? By Horace McCoy

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a relentlessly bleak book that was published in 1935. It’s about a young man named Robert who moves to Los Angeles to get into the film industry. When Robert tries to get work as an extra on a movie, he meets Gloria, a young woman who wants to be an actress. After failing to get jobs, they decide to join a dance marathon. The problem is that these marathons are death marches that can go on for weeks. The only breaks that the contestants get are 10 minute time-outs after an hour and fifty minutes of dancing. The couple that lasts the longest gets $1,000, and all the contestants are fed.

Throughout the contest, new gimmicks are added to liven up the marathon. Like at the end of the night, there’s a speed walk and the couple that comes in last is eliminated. Another twist that is added to the marathon is two contestants get married, and are saved from elimination. Other times, celebrities show up at the marathon for cameos.

Published in the mid-1930s, They Shoot Horses was written as a metaphor of the plight of people during the Great Depression. However, today it can be seen as a frightfully accurate precursor to reality TV shows.

In reality shows, people voluntarily do things that are physically and mentally grueling and/or humiliating, all for money and their 15 minutes of fame. Reality shows are also known for using gimmicks to make the show more exciting. Finally, celebrities of varying degrees of fame are known to pop up on all types of reality shows, from Big Brother toMasterChef.

The question is, is a grueling dance marathon any more dehumanizing than making someone eat something likehorse rectum or blended rats, like some contestants on Fear Factor had to do?

9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest is a long and unwieldy book; the story is nearly a thousand pages and there are over 100 pages of footnotes. It’s believed that the book takes place around 2009, in an alternate timeline where the years aren’t numbered. Instead, they are sponsored by companies. For example, there is the Year of the Whopper and the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.

Due to the scope of the book, the plot is impossible to summarize in a few sentences, but it’s mostly set at a tennis academy and a halfway house for addicts. Both are in Boston, which is part of the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N. In this reality, the United States forced Canada and Mexico to join America as one big super state.

There are several groups of characters in the book and some of those people are looking for a lost film called “Entertainment.” The film is supposedly so entertaining that if someone starts to watch it, they can’t stop. They will do nothing else but watch the film. This includes stopping eating and drinking, and eventually, they will die while watching it.

In many ways, Wallace’s novel predicted contemporary life fairly accurately. Most notably, he predicted the way people would consume media and their obsession with entertainment. In the book, people watch teleputers, which are combinations of televisions, phones, and computers. People can get movies and TV shows off the InterLace to watch whenever they want, and then they listen to their teleputers with white ear plugs.

Of course, all of those inventions are now commonplace, albeit not exactly the way that Wallace envisioned it. Teleputers sound a lot like smart phones, Wallace just didn’t predict that they would be mobile and fit in the palm of your hand, while the InterLace is a lot like Netflix. However, Wallace thought that a system like the Interlace would be the death of TV advertising. Finally, the earplugs are, of course, Apple’s earbuds.

Wallace also wrote about video phones, which had been predicted by many other writers before him, but Wallace had an interesting insight. In Infinite Jest, videophones were just a fad because people don’t like seeing themselves on the screen. In real life, there are many reasons people don’t use video chat as frequently as texting. One reason is that people don’t like seeing pictures of themselves.

Finally, Wallace predicted the rise of Donald Trump. In his book, the President is the loudest and brashest right wing sensationalist of the mid-1990s – Rush Limbaugh

8. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood’s End, by famed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, is about an invasion of Earth by a group of aliens called the Overlords. The Overlords aren’t violent, but they hide themselves from human eyes. Through a spokesperson at the United Nations, they say that they will reveal themselves to humankind in 50 years. 

During those 50 years, the Overlords improve life on Earth in many ways – ignorance, poverty, hunger, and disease are all things of the past. Of course, the Overlords also help advance human technology. One of those technologies was a type of virtual reality that is like a movie, but it is so realistic that you can’t tell the difference between the movie and real life. “The program,” as Clarke called it, would appeal to all the senses and would allow the person to be someone completely different from themselves, or even a plant. Why someone would want to be a plant is beyond us, but that isn’t the only head scratching prediction Clarke made.

He also predicted that in the early 2000s, people might watch TV for three hours a day. The only way someone would be able to watch all the programming would be to never sleep, as opposed to it being impossible.

So while Clarke didn’t foresee cable TV or YouTube, he did correctly predict video games and virtual reality. This is pretty impressive considering that when the book was published in 1953, televisions in homes were just becoming common.

7. The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth

In Phillip Roth’s 2004 book, The Plot Against America, a well-known celebrity gets into politics and starts to spew conspiracy theories about minorities. Finding his niche, the celebrity, with no political experience, panders to racists and anti-Semites. Surprisingly, he wins the nomination of the Republican Party and then goes on to win the presidency. As president, he aligns himself with a notorious and brutal world leader and this creates global tension and conflict. He also begins to persecute the minorities that he villainized in his campaign.

The Plot Against America takes place in an alternate timeline and it starts in 1940. The celebrity who is running for president is Charles Lindbergh, who uses a platform rife with anti-Semitism to become president. After he’s elected, the world leader that Lindbergh associates himself with is Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the parallels in Roth’s book to real life should be obvious to anyone who wasn’t living under a rock in 2016. But if you were in a coma or something, let us fill you in. Celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump ran for the Republican ticket with no political experience. His platform included racist conspiracy theories and he spoutedoffensive rhetoric about minorities. He found popularity among white nationalists and people who were anti-immigration and then shamelessly pandered to them. Amazingly, he not only won the Republican nomination, but he went on to win the presidency.

So far, as president, Trump has alienated several of America’s allies, but talks glowingly about Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has a horrendous record of human rights violations, which includes state-sponsored human trafficking.

The final similarity between President Trump and President Lindbergh is that after Trump became President, he started to persecute those he villainized in his campaign,specifically Muslims and undocumented immigrants.

6. Neuromancer by William Gibson

William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, not only gave birth to the cyberpunk genre, but it also predicted cyberspace and the internet.

The book follows Case, a former computer hacker and drug addict. Before the book starts, Case was fired from his job and his central nervous system was poisoned, so he couldn’t “jack in” to cyberspace, which is called “the matrix.” Millions of people can jack into the matrix, which is a 3D virtual world that appeals to all the senses. One day, Case meets a mysterious employer who says he will help Case get back into the matrix, but in exchange, Case has to complete an incredibly difficult hack.

In 1984, there was an internet, but only a handful of universities used it. Gibson foresaw that it would eventually connect millions of computers. Of course, the internet isn’t as immersive as the matrix Gibson predicted (yet) but he did predict the rise of technological addiction and people’s need to be online.

5. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s debut novel, Player Piano, was published in 1952, and it takes place in the near future, 10 years after the Third World War. Since people were needed to fight the war, factories were designed to be more autonomous. Also, the stock market is controlled by a computer that tells the factories how many products the world needs. Unfortunately, this automation leads to massive unemployment. Only managers and engineers, who have doctorates, are employed and everyone else can either join the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, where they do meaningless work like fill potholes, or they can join the army. However, being in the army has kind of lost its meaning as well, because there is nothing to fight for. Essentially, Player Piano is about how automation could make life purposeless for many people.

Of course, we are a long way from the world of Player Piano, but Vonnegut did correctly predict the rise of automation in society, and that it would cause people to lose their jobs. Many people have blamed these job losses on China, or immigrants, but that isn’t exactly the case. Since 2000, America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, but American manufacturing output has increased during that time; meaning the jobs are being lost to computers and robots, not to other countries or people.

We’re seeing automation take over jobs more and more every day. Just a few examples include with self-checkout lanes at the grocery store or McDonald’s automated menus. In the future, more jobs are expected to be lost to automation. Drones are already being tested for deliveries by companies like Amazon. Notably, by 2020, self-driving cars are expected to be the norm and this will eliminate all driving jobs. It is expected to get so bad that, over the next 20 years in a country like Canada, four out of 10 jobs will be lost to automation.

So what do you want to do? Join the army or the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps?

4. Earth by David Brin

David Brin is best known for writing the book The Postman, which was made into one of Kevin Costner’s worst movies (and that is saying something). In 1989, Brin published the novel Earth, which takes place in the year 2038. While the novel does have a plot, the book is more or less Brin’s predictions about the future. If you’re curious what the plot is, it’s that an artificial black hole has fallen into the Earth’s core. Scientists have a year to fix it, or the Earth may be destroyed.

The book has a large cast of characters and through these characters, Brin explores what life might be like in the future. Currently, there is a website that keeps track of his predictions, and there are 14 predictions confirmed to have come true and another eight that are likely.

Some of the predictions that Brin did get right are global warming, rising sea levels, and the breaking of the levees on the Mississippi River. Another natural disaster that is postulated in the book that came true was the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.

In 1990, people knew about the internet, but Brin accurately predicted the World Wide Web that was invented by Tim Berners-Lee a year after the book was published. On the “net,” as Brin calls it, there are pages full of hyperlinks. Brin also thought that the net would be used by major news outlets and citizen reporters, along with everyday people who wanted to express themselves. Finally, he also foresaw spam and Trojan horse viruses.

At the time of this list, Brin still has about 21 years to be proven right on the rest of his predictions. So far, only one prediction from his book has been disproven. In Earth, the characters haven’t discovered any Earth-like planets and they didn’t think they would be found any time soon. In reality, we have found several Earth-like planets that are in habitable zones around their star. The first was Kepler-186f; its discovery was announced by NASA in 2014.

3. The World Set Free by H.G. Wells

In The World Set Free, H.G. Wells predicted atomic bombs, even going as far to use the term “atomic bomb” in his book. His bombs are uranium-based and they are about the size of an orange. The explosion is caused by the splitting of atoms and after the explosion, there is corrosive radiation left over. What is so impressive about this is that Wells wrote the book in 1913, 32 years before the first nuclear bomb was tested.

The World Set Free also has an interesting role in the technology it predicted – it helpedinspire its invention.

In 1932, English scientists had successfully split an atom through artificial means and the experiment didn’t show any evidence that splitting an atom would cause a huge release of energy. Later that year, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard read The World Set Free and thought that Wells was correct. Splitting an atom would probably release a lot of energy; the question was how to split the atom. A year later, he had a eureka moment. Szilard said, “It suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbed one neutron, such an element, if assembled in sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear chain reaction.”

Szilard patented the idea in 1933, but he was disturbed by The World Set Free. He didn’t want the patent to become public because it might fall into the wrong hands. Something else that worried him was the rise of Nazism. So in 1939, he drafted the letter that was sent by Albert Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt, saying that Germany was stockpiling uranium. This letter, in turn, gave birth to the Manhattan Project. Szilard and some British scientists worked with the Americans, and this eventually led to the first nuclear bombs. Two of those bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945 at the tail end of World War II.

Wells died in 1946, after having seen the weapon that he warned against used on civilians in a war.

2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Yeah, you knew this one was coming.

Published in 1935, Brave New World takes place in the year 632 A.F., which is actually 2540 A.D. (A.F. stands for After Ford, as in the industrialist Henry Ford). In the future, babies are born in labs, meaning the family unit is dead. When they are children, they are told in whispers while they sleep to buy things and to love consumer products. When they are older, the state demands that they be sexually promiscuous, and women wear their birth control on their belts. No one has any real worries about life because mood enhancing drugs are widely available and its usage is encouraged.

Of course, contemporary society isn’t quite to the point of Brave New World, but in all fairness to its author, Aldous Huxley, we still have over 520 years to go. However, he did accurately depict several aspects of contemporary culture, including our consumerist-heavy society. He also predicted antidepressants and their prevalence in modern society.

What’s interesting about Brave New World‘s relationship to contemporary society, is that in 1985, writer and media critic Neil Postman published the non-fiction book Amusing Ourselves to Death. In the book, Postman accurately predicts the rise of a candidate like Donald Trump and the prevalence of fake news in society. In the introduction of the book, Postman explains that he got the idea in 1984, when he was participating in a panel on parallels between George Orwell’s 1984 and real life in 1984.

What Postman realized is that modern life is becoming more like Brave New World than1984. Postman wrote:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that therewould be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

Essentially, what Postman says Huxley was warning us against is the dangers of beingoppressed by our own amusement; meaning we use endless streams of entertainment to distract ourselves and fail to engage with real life.

1. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar is probably the least well known book on the list, but it is the most accurate prediction of what life would be like in the future. 

The book, which was written in 1968, follows a large cast of characters, but many chapters are backstory and information about the world of 2010. According to the website The Millions, there are at least 17 amazingly accurate predictions that Brunner makes about 2010 in Stand on Zanzibar.

In the book, a major problem in society is that individuals are committing random acts of violence, often at schools. Terrorists also threaten American interests and attack American buildings. Between 1960 and 2010, Brunner predicted that prices would increase six fold because of inflation; it actually increased sevenfold. America’s biggest rival is China, and not the Soviet Union. It’s also a different dynamic because instead of warfare or a weapons race, the competition is seen in economics, trade, and technology. 

As for the rest of the world, the countries of Europe have formed into one union. Britain is part of it, but they tend to side with the United States, while the other European countries are critical of American actions. Africa is behind the rest of the world, while Israel’s existence is still a source of tension in the Middle East.

When it comes to the lives of everyday people, marriage still happens but young people prefer to have short-term relationships instead of committing to someone long-term. Society is also much more liberal. Homosexuality and bisexuality is accepted. Black people are in a better position in society, but racial tension is still prevalent.

When it comes to technology, Brin predicted that cars would run on electric fuel cells. Honda and General Motors are the two biggest manufacturers. And even though General Motors is a Detroit based company, Detroit is a rundown ghost town, but they have a unique techno music scene, which really did emerge in the 1990s.

TV channels are played all over the world thanks to satellites and the TV system allows people to watch shows on their own schedule. Inflight entertainment on planes is in the back of the seats and they feature videos and news. Also, in the book the characters can phone each other on video screens, but instead of a picture of themselves, they use avatars, which can look like the caller or someone completely different. There are also laser printers, which print documents.

Pharmaceuticals are used to help sexual performance, and they are advertised. Due to a societal and political backlash, tobacco has been marginalized and marijuana has become decriminalized. Finally, the President of the United States is President Obomi, which is an amazing fluke or actual evidence that Brunner somehow saw or experienced 2010.

In all, Stand on Zanzibar is a pretty remarkable vision of the future. Unfortunately, the author, John Brunner, did not get to see many of his predictions come true – he died in 1995 at the age of 60.


The Future

– As Read in Fiction

Marvel/DC Comic Mashups – WIF Graphic Novels

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Marvel-DC Mashups

from contributor 

What would happen if you took elements of two famous comic book characters, one from Marvel and one from DC, and mixed them together? Would the two powers complement each other and make the hero better? Or would having two powers be a hindrance to the character? Well, we wondered the same thing, so we had several artists develop mashup characters using characters from the two dominant comic book universes, the Marvel Universe and the DC Universe. Now we want to know which ones you like the best; please vote up for your favorites and down for ones you don’t like. Also, in the comments below, please feel free to share any ideas you have for Marvel-DC mashups that we don’t have on the list.

1. Captain Bat

 The mashup of two characters that both have an unbeatable, indomitable will is a nice character trait. But think about this, Batman uses the bat to instill fear and the Captain America uses the American flag for inspiration. Together they inspire fear like no one else.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

2. FlasHulk

 The Flash & The Hulk may not come to mind as good combination superhero, but super-speed and super-strength actually make him…um, Superman….if he couldn’t fly and was green and had anger management issues. Sounds like a good guy to have at parties, “Flash smash fast!”
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

3. Wonder Phoenix

 The mashup of two powerful super-heroines, Wonder Woman and Phoenix (Jean Grey) is a natural combo of two heroes with great hair. An Amazon combined with the Phoenix Force would be a hot date unless you are blue-haired, asparagus-looking aliens.
Illustrated by Rick Marin.

 4. Iron Robin

Even I’m not sure how I came up with Iron Man and Robin as a good mashup. Maybe I was going for a mashup that really makes no sense. They are such opposites. Metal armor vs. tights. Solo hero vs. sidekick. Cool name vs. bird name. Playboy vs. just a boy. I better stop, Robin might be reading this and the differences are quite depressing from his point of view.
Illustrated by Felle.

 5. Captain Crawler

 Blending Nightcrawler’s distinctive features with the wholesome good looks of DC’s Captain Marvel (Shazam) gives us a dashing guy in a hoodie who can teleport and stand toe-to-toe with Superman. Does he remind anyone of Ezio Auditore da Firenze from Assassin’s Creed? Yeah, me too.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

 6. CyThing

 Two loveable, but sometimes brooding characters who would rather have the body they were born with rather than the body fate gave them. The Thing and Cyborg are more alike than either probably realized, so better to mash them up into CyThing! The Thing would be even more badass with a cannon for an arm, yes?
Illustrated by Rick Marin.

 7. Thor Hawk

Two guys that swing a deadly, blunt instrument, a hammer for Thor and a mace for Hawkman. Seems like a good mashup of beings from other worlds who came to defend earth or Midgard.
Illustrated by Kelly Ishikawa.

 8. Green Wolverine

(Green Claw?)

 Mashing up a blood thirsty killer turned hero and a hero who went insane probably isn’t a good combination for mental stability, but you know he will keep it interesting at the JLA or X-Mansion. You must admit that having claws made out of green energy is pretty cool.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

 9. Aquadevil

 Daredevil, the Man Without Fear combined with Aquaman, the King of the Seven Seas is a typical fish out of water story mashup. Doesn’t ol’ hornhead need buildings to bound from? Well, at least he has something to throw, and this “billy club” has dangerous barbs. They both share a sonar capability for navigating dark waters.
Illustrated by Doubleleaf.

 10. Amazing Super-Spider

Red and blue superhero costumes never looked better than when worn by Spider-man and Superman. Mashing up Marvel and DC founding superheroes, who seem to be just a bit more of a hero than anyone else, just feels right. And who didn’t want to see Spider-man in a cape with webbing and Superman shooting webs, even though the webs are redundant when he can fly?
Illustrated by Rick Marin.

Marvel-DC Comic Mashups

WIF Graphic Novels-001

– WIF Graphic Novels

Top 10 Best Sellers – WIF Bookshelf

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Best Selling Novels

of All-Time

91109-top-10-books2

Since these are the bestselling novels of all time, you will not find any non-fiction, religious, or political books, like The Holy Quran, The King James Bible, and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. If we were to include them, they would be the top three in the order that they are listed.

 We chose to exclude those books because people had a spiritual or political reason to buy them. Would these books have become mega bestsellers without religious or political pressure? Who knows, but it is a major influential factor, so they have been left off the list.

nstead, these are all fictional stories that were written by a single person who sprung the idea from their head.

10. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown: 80+ Million

On this list, you will find some of the greatest books that showcase some of the most esteemed authors to ever live. And then there’s The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. This book that has its own Wikipedia page dedicated solely to people’s criticism of it, ranging from its historical and religious inaccuracies to its poor literary quality. Despite this, some people must have liked it because 80 million copies have been sold since it was published in 2003, and the series it’s a part of has inspired not one, but three disappointing movies from Tom Hanks and Ron Howard.

The book starts off with a murder in the Louvre in Paris, and Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is called to the scene because the victim, the curator of the museum, wrote a coded message in blood. Soon, Langdon and cryptologist Sophie Neveu Abraham are following clues to uncover a secret that has been protected for over 2,000 years. Since there are 80 million copies out there, then there is probably a good chance you know that the secret is Jesus Christ had children with Mary Magdalene. If you didn’t, well, at least now you don’t have to read The Da Vinci Code and you can pick a better book to spend your time reading.

9. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: 85+ Million

Irish-born Clive Staples Lewis went to Oxford University and specialized in literature and philosophy. After school, he was given a teaching position with Magdalen College, which is a part of Oxford. While there, he joined the literary discussion group, the Inklings, which included another author on this list, who wrote the book in our #6 spot.

Lewis was a prolific writer, but he is best known today for his seven-book series The Chronicles of Narnia. The most famous book and introduction to the series, and the bestselling book of the series, is The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, which was published in 1950.

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe takes place in 1940 and tells the tale of four English siblings who are sent to the English countryside because of the Blitz. While there, they discover a magical wardrobe that is a gateway to another world, Narnia, which is full of talking animals and magical creatures. When the children arrive, the world is in perpetual winter because the White Witch has cast a spell to keep Narnia frozen. To help their friends in Narnia, the children must work together to defeat the White Witch and break her spell.

At first, the critics didn’t love The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but readers did. It’s estimated that over 100 million copies of it have been sold. The other books in the series were also bestsellers, but none of them reached the levels of the first book.

8. Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin: 100+ Million

One of China’s greatest novels is Dream of the Red Chamber, or The Story of the Stone, which was written by Cao Xueqin, a writer and painter who was homeless and drank too much. He wrote the book in chapters during the 1750s and he exchanged the chapters with friends and family, often for food or some wine. He died in his 40s in 1763.

A collection of the chapters formed into a novel wasn’t published until 1791. However, even today, it is debated what the true version of the story is. There have been alternate endings that have survived and even completely different manuscripts have popped up. Today, there is an academic field solely dedicated to studying the variations of Dream of the Red Chamber called “Redology.”

Often compared to Gone With the Wind, Dream of the Red Chamber is a sprawling saga about the decline of a wealthy family and it is full of astute observations about life in 18th century China. It’s a massive book, the English edition is over 2,500 pages long, and there are over 400 characters and several different story lines. One of the most famous storylines involves a man named Jia Baoyu, who is in love with one of his cousins, but he is forced to marry a different cousin and this leads to a terrible tragedy.

The book was a massive hit in China, especially after a TV version was released in 1987, and it is believed that over 100 million copies of the book have been sold.

7. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie: 100+ Million

Arguably the most famous crime writer of all time is Agatha Christie, who is also considered the bestselling author to ever live. In total, she wrote 66 novels and 14 short story collections and she supposedly sold 200 billion of them; which is 28 books for every single person on Earth. Her bestselling novel of all time is And Then There Were None, which has a plot line that is so famous that you’ve probably seen dozens of variations of it in movies and television shows.

In the book (which had a really, really unfortunate original title), 10 strangers are lured to an island under false pretenses. The only thing that all of them have in common is that they were all somehow involved in the death of another person, but managed to avoid punishment. Then at dinner, they are accused of their crimes and told that throughout the night, they would be killed one-by-one. Sure enough, the characters start to die in a manner that resembles the lines in the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians,” which is where the novel gets its name, because the last line of the rhyme is “And then there were none.” The killer and how they performed the murders is then revealed in a post script.

The book, which is considered to be Christie’s masterpiece, has sold over 100 million copies to date.

6. The Hobbit by J.R. Tolkien: 100+ Million

While he was a professor of linguistics at Oxford University, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was grading some papers when he suddenly wrote a line about a creature called “a hobbit.” From that line grew the book The Hobbit, which was published in 1937. At first,The Hobbit was considered a children’s book. However, that view continued to evolve with the publication of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 1954 and 1955 and this expanded its audience.

The Hobbit has never been out of print and got a resurgence when the Peter JacksonTolkien movies were released. In total, it’s estimated that over 100 million copies of The Hobbit have been sold.

Of course, The Lord of the Rings trilogy is also a mega-bestseller. According to Forbes, over 150 million copies of the trilogy, which includes single books and all three in a single collection, have been sold.

5. Harry Potter and Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling: 107+ Million

The story of Joanne Rowling, better known as J.K., is almost as Cinderella-esque as the protagonist of her blockbuster franchise, Harry Potter. Rowling was a single mother living on welfare in Edinburgh, Scotland, and she typed the original manuscript on a typewriter; meaning that if she changed one paragraph, she had to change anything that followed it. When she finished the manuscript in 1995, she looked around for a publisher, but was rejected by a dozen of them. One of the big problems with The Philosopher’s Stone (which is called The Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States) is that it was twice as long as the average children’s novel.

The winds of fate changed for Rowling when the chairman of a small publishing house called Bloomsbury let his 8-year-old niece, Alice, read the first chapter of the book. After she did, she demanded that he give her the rest of the book. Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book and gave Rowling a $2,400 advance. They also told her to get a day job because people didn’t make a living from writing children’s books.

Today, Rowling is worth about $910 million (she was a billionaire, but dropped off of Forbes billionaire list in 2012, because of charitable donations and Britain’s high tax rates), and it all stemmed from that book that couldn’t find a publisher and no one thought would be successful. That first book in the series has sold over 107 million copies as of 2010.

The rest of the books in the Harry Potter series were also smash hits and it is considered the biggest book franchise of all time. As of 2013, before the release of The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, there were 450 million Harry Potter books in print.

4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: 140+ Million

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a French aristocrat, writer, and pilot. After the Fall of France, Saint-Exupéry went into exile and ended up in New York City, where he continued to write. In the second half of 1942, he wrote and illustrated his magnum opus, The Little Prince. The novella was published in 1943 in North America, even though it was originally written in French because Saint-Exupéry spoke English poorly. It wouldn’t be published in France until 1946, an event that Saint-Exupéry wouldn’t live to see. In 1943, he joined the Free French Air Force and in 1944, he disappeared while doing a reconnaissance mission over Germany. His ID bracelet was found 50 years later in a fisherman’s net off the coast of Marseilles, but his body has never been found.

The Little Prince looks like a children’s book, but it actually has a lot of keen observations and insights regarding human nature and relationships. The book is about a pilot who crashes in the Sahara desert and meets a young boy with curly blond hair. The boy tells the pilot that he’s a prince that fell from a small planet called Asteroid 325, however on Earth we call it Asteroid B-612. The Prince left his home after he fell in love with a rose and he caught her in a lie, so he is traveling across the universe to cure his loneliness.

While the story and the pictures are a bit simplistic, the complexity of the emotional impact has resonated with readers for decades. It has been translated into 250 languages and two million copies are sold every year. Altogether, it’s estimated that 140 million copies of The Little Prince has been sold since 1943.

3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: 150+ Million

Famed Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho’s beloved novel The Alchemist was published in 1988, and it is about Santiago, a young Spanish boy who has a dream that urges him to go to Egypt. Before he sets out, he learns about the Personal Legend, which is something that someone always wanted to do with their life. If someone decides to follow their own Personal Legend, then the universe will try to help them. And the universe is a very powerful ally. If the universe will bend to help a person on their Personal Legend, then it’s possible to do the impossible, like alchemy, which is the process of turning lead into gold.

The book and its message of following one’s dreams has made it a favorite of many famous people. Pharrell Williams gets choked up when he talks about the book, whileWill Smith thinks of himself as a metaphorical alchemist. If you know anything about Oprah, you shouldn’t be surprised that Oprah loves it. She suggested it to Madonna, who said that it was life changing.

Of course, non-famous people also love The Alchemist as well, quite a few of them in fact. In under 30-years, 150 million copies of The Alchemist have been sold.

2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: 200+ Million

Charles Dickens was born into a poor family in England in 1812. When he was just 12-years-old, his dad was put into prison over debt and Dickens had to drop out and work in a run-down factory labeling cans. He was able to go back to school when he was 15, but only for a short time before he was forced to drop out again to work as an office boy to help out his family. A year later, Dickens started working as a freelance reporter. He also became a notable cartoonist who published under the name Boz. His work as a writer and cartoonist eventually led to his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, which was published in 1837.

22-years later, Dickens’ published the book that would go on to be his bestselling and arguably his greatest piece of work, A Tale a Two Cities. The book takes place before and during the French Revolution and is set both in England and France. It follows over a dozen characters, both peasants and aristocrats. It’s a rich and complex book that has been a bestseller since it was published in weekly installments from April 30 to November 29, 1859.

While it is impossible to figure out the exact number of copies that have been sold in the 150 years since it was released, most estimates put the sales figure at around 200 million copies.

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: 500+ million

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s Don Quixote does have a huge advantage over the other books on this list; mainly it’s centuries older than all of them.

Don Quixote is considered the first modern novel and was published in 1605. It follows the adventures of Alonso Quixano, an elderly man who lives in La Mancha, Spain. As he loses his sanity, he reads books about chivalry and decides to become a knight. He declares himself Don Quixote de La Mancha and sets out on his old horse, Rocinante, with his loyal assistant at his side, Sancho Panza, to right wrongs and dish out justice. However, nothing goes right from the start and he gets into a bunch of hilarious adventures.

The book was an instant hit when it was released and it was reprinted six times in its first year, but Cervantes didn’t profit much from it and died poor in 1616. After his death, the popularity of the novel continued to flourish and the book is still popular today. In 2005, which was the 400th anniversary of the original publication, 10 publishing houses released a version of the book. One version from the Royal Spanish Academy sold out their entire stock of 600,000 copies in two months in Spain and Latin America.

To get an estimate of how many copies of Don Quixote have been sold since 1605, the website Lovereading.co.uk, calculated how many editions and how many translations classic novels have gone through. By their estimates, Don Quixote has been translated into 25 languages and there have been 963 editions, which calculates to over 500 million copies.


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Nightmarish Christmas Characters – WIF Around the World

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Nightmarish

Holiday Characters

from Around the World

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With the holiday season around the corner, we thought we would share our favorite holiday characters … with a twist. For centuries, adults have been attempting to shape the behavior of children. Some methods have been proved to be harsher than others, and have been abandoned in modern times. Other methods have simply been altered or changed to put an acceptable face on a medieval nightmare. The characters that we have chosen to share with you aren’t Santa Claus, Rudolph or Jack Frost. Here are 10 terrifying bits of holiday folklore to keep your kids in line…

10. The Whipfather, Assistant to Saint Nick

whipfather

Country of Origin: France

Courtesy of the French, we have the legend of “The Whipfather,” Santa’s Child-Murdering Assistant. Folklore tells us the Whipfather was a desperate, broke innkeeper. One day, he met three young boys from wealthy families. The Whipfather then decided to slits their throats and chop the boys to bits, throwing the pieces into a barrel of brine (salt water). Hoping to further his profit on a slaughtered pig already stewing in the brine, the Whipfather was stopped by – you guessed it – ol’ Saint Nick. Santa is aware that the Whipfather has been overtaken by avarice and murdered the three young boys.

Of course, Santa being Santa, he restores the boys’ lives and binds the Whipfather to an eternity of servitude. The Whipfather is usually dressed in dark clothing and wears a length of rope or chain with unkempt hair and a long beard and a sinister scowl. Despite his fading relevance, children are still warned against getting on his bad side or else find themselves visited by the Whipfather, who leave coal or painful red marks on a child’s bottom. Like all children’s tales the French certainly had a message they wanted to impart to children: don’t succumb to greed.

9. Teke-Teke

teketeke

Country of Origin: Japan

Not exactly a Christmas tale, but a foreboding folktale to scare children nonetheless. Suicide is highly prevalent in Japanese culture, coming from its historical function asan honorable death as opposed to failure or inevitable death on the battlefield. The theme has also extended to its urban legends. According to legend, Teke-Teke was a woman or young school girl, who either jumped or fell in the path of an oncoming subway train and was severed in half. Her horrible death gave rise to the myth of “Teke-Teke,” a woman filled with so much anger and pain that she roams throughout Japan in the form of a torso, dragging herself along with her claw-like hands. The origin of the name comes from the sound she makes while moving: “teke-teke-teke,” as she scrapes the ground and uses her elbows to chase after her victims.

When parents tell their children of Teke-Teke, it always begins with a young man or woman staying out past curfew. They see a beautiful young school girl standing by a windowsill; smiles are exchanged. Suddenly, the girl she jumps out of the window and reveals she is nothing but a torso. The young man or girl tries to get away, but it’s too late… Teke-Teke has produced a scythe, and has cut the child in half. Seems like a bit of an overreaction for staying out past dusk, but that’s just us.

8. Split Mouth Woman (Kuchisake-Onna)

splitmouth

Country of origin: Japan

A perfect character for our readers who would like to go with a little something extra for Halloween is the Split Mouth Woman. Another tale that warns children of traveling the streets at night while unaccompanied has even scarier repercussions. The legend of Kuchisake-Onna deems that a child walking alone may happen upon a tall, female figure in a trench-coat. She will have long, black hair with a surgical mask covering the bottom half of her face. A self-conscious woman, Kuchisake-Onna will ask the child if they think she is beautiful. Unfortunately for Japanese children there is no right answer.

If you reply “No,” a quick and grotesque death awaits you, as she will produce a pair of large scissors and remove your head. An answer of “yes” will lead to Kuschisake-Onna removing her mask and revealing her grotesque and mutilated face. Her smile sliced from ear to ear – she will ask again, “Am I beautiful?” For some reason, if you still answer in the affirmative, she will chase you down and slice you in half anyway. Same goes for if you reply, “no.” It seems the only escape is to be ambivalent and in her confusion, run away to safety.

7. Krampus

krampus

Country of Origin: Austria

Getting back into the Christmas spirit, we must introduce Krampus, probably one of the more well-known figures on our list. Krampus’s exact origin is unknown, but he is said to have come from pagan traditions. His physical characteristics would bear this out. Krampus is a horned, anthropomorphic figure described as “half-goat, half-demon” who punishes children who misbehave. Krampus is also hairy and has cloven hooves. His appearance is similar to the devil with his dark fangs, to boot.

The creation of Krampus might have been analogous to the advent of Christianity, with scholars arguing that his possession of chains, symbolizes the binding of the Devil by the Christian Church.

A direct foil to Santa Claus, Krampus is the stick to Santa’s carrot in shaping children’s behavior. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria, with men dressed in costumes walking the streets, looking to dole out punishment. Injuries have led to each Krampus being given an identification number to document any overly violent behavior. The Krampus tradition is spreading with more cities in Europe having parades to celebrate the half-goat, half-demon.

It is astonishing that the parades, which took place for generations in the Tyrol Region, have even managed to travel to the United States, with parties and parades taking place in Los Angeles. Goes to show you that good news travels fast.

6. Jólakötturinn

yule-cat

Country of Origin: Iceland

One of the most unique characters of folklore on our list is the Icelandic Yule Cat, or the Christmas Cat. Made to strike fear in the hearts of children and workers alike – legend has it that the Icelandic cat will eat all children and workers who did not finish their work on time. However, children who do finish their tasks will be rewarded with new clothes. Some parents even took it a step further, saying that Jólakötturinn would target lazy children. If children worked hard they would have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas. The lazy children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat.

Researchers believe the origins of the Yule Cat can be traced back to medieval times when land owners would pressure farmers to finish processing their wool before Christmas. The ones who finished their work would be rewarded with new clothing, while the others would be devoured by a monstrous cat. While we don’t necessarily have a monstrous cat threatening us to be efficient producers, unemployment and loss of healthcare has done the trick.

5. Belsnickel

belsnickel

Country of Origin: Germany

Our first character from Germany, Belsnickel’s name is derivative of Saint Nicholas.Belzen is German for ‘to wallop’ or ‘to drub,’ while Nickel is a pet name for Nicholas. As his name would suggest, Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. He wears tattered old clothing and raggedy fur, and in some traditions, also has a mask. The tradition of Belsnickel made its way to the United States in the 19th century when German immigrants immigrated to the Pennsylvania area (you may recall Dwight Schrute dressing as Belsnickel in one episode of The Office).

In that small American community the traditional Belsnickel lived in, he showed up at houses 1-2 weeks before Christmas, scaring the children because he somehow knew exactly which of them misbehaved. Belsnickel would rap on the door or window with his switch and often the children would have to answer a question for him or sing some type of song. Well-behaved children, or those who would answer the question or sing a song, would be given candies. The other children were not so lucky: if they moved too quickly for the treats, they would get struck with Belsnickel’s switch. In modern times, the switch has been adapted to only be used as a noise generated device, and the legend of Belsnickel lives on.

4. Hans Trapp

hanstrapp

Country of Origin: France

The legend of Hans Trapp comes from Alsace and Lorraine. The antithesis of Santa Claus, Hans Trapp delivers beatings to naughty children while Santa, on his worst day, delivers coal. According to legend, Trapp was, in fact, a real man who was profoundly evil. Rich, greedy, and a worshipper of Satan, Trapp was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Trapp was forced into exile and he fled into the forest. In his isolation, Trapp was driven mad and developed an insatiable hunger for human flesh.

He eventually began to prey upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. In one particularly ghastly case, he was about to begin feasting on a young boy he’d just slaughtered when suddenly, God struck him down with a lightning bolt, killing him. The frightening figure is still a part of French tradition, where he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

3. The Jólasveinar

jolasveinar

Country of Origin: Iceland

Another example of traditions being merged or shaped as time passes is the changed identity of the Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads. In their inception, they were 13 Icelandic trolls, who each had their own name and personality. The trolls’ activities ranged greatly, from leaving gifts to rotting potatoes, with some even described as homicidal murders who ate children. Generally, they were known as pranksters that stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime. The Yule Lads were used to scare children into behaving, just like the Yule Cat.

As time passed and cultures became intertwined, the benign Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus) rubbed off on the Icelandic traditions. Finally, in the 20th century, the formerly devilish Jólasveinar changed its ways and began leaving gifts more frequently. It eventually shed its medieval appearance and is now characterized in the simple costume worn by traditional Santa Claus.

2. Frau Perchta

perchta

Country of Origin: Germany or Austria

During medieval times, fear of a witch could be a very effective way to instill fear into a group of people. And Frau Perchta was a particularly frightening witch. According to German and Austrian tales, Perchta was generous in her rewards to the faithful and kind, but ruthless with the wicked. Very much a Christmas tradition, Perchta would visit homes during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). Children and even adults feared her gruesome punishment of the sinful, “rip(ing) out internal organs and replac(ing) them with garbage.”

Described as a tall, powerfully built woman, Perchata is thought to have been a goddess during Pagan times but transformed to a slovenly witch during the advent of Christianity. As German society progressed, Perchta began to be used more and more to punish and scare peasant women who became involved in the growing textile industry. During that period, “lazy” girls and women would be visited by Perchta … so they best finish their garments!

1. Cuco

cuco

Country of Origin: Portugal

“Sleep little child, sleep now, or the Cuco will come and eat you.” It’s hard to imagine that a child would not have nightmares after that lullaby. The myth of the Cuco originated in Portugal and Galicia with etymology deriving from the Galician and Portuguese côco: a ghost with a pumpkin head. The Cuco is a child eater and a kidnapper; in some instances, it will simply devour the child, leaving no trace, or it may steal the child away to a place of no return. The caveat of course being that it only bestows this punishment on disobedient children.

 Similar to Santa Claus, the Cuco uses the roof… only for more nefarious activities. It is on the lookout for a child’s misbehavior and can morph into the shape of any dark shadow so it can stay watching. The Cuco is supposed to represent the opposite of the guardian angel and is frequently compared to the devil.

Nightmarish Christmas Characters –

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WIF Around the World

World Wide Words Issue 931 – WIF Style

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World Wide Words

Issue 931

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Not my pigeon

Q From Helen Mosback: I have just read a serialised version of John Rowland’s Calamity in Kent. It includes this: “In fact, it’s your pigeon, as they say in the civil service.” I was wondering if you could shed any light on the expression it’s your pigeon? I have to admit to being quite taken by the Polish expression not my circus, not my monkeys to indicate that something is not one’s problem, and would be very happy should I have found an equally enchanting English expression!pigeon_png_clipart-671

A Readers may not be familiar with John Rowland, a little-known and neglected British detective-story writer who published Calamity in Kent in 1950. The British Library has republished it this year in its Crime Classics series.

The date of his book is significant, since at that time the expression was more familiar to people in the countries of what is now the Commonwealth than it is now. It had come into the language around the end of the nineteenth century.

The idiom suggests something is the speaker’s interest, concern, area of expertise or responsibility. This is a recent British example:

If posh people aren’t your pigeon, the correspondence on display in this book will be a massive bore and irritation.
The Times, 8 Oct. 2016.

It also turns up in the negative in phrases such as “that’s not my pigeon”, denying involvement or responsibility in some matter.

Despite your analogy with the Polish expression, the pigeon here isn’t the animal. It’s a variant form of pidgin. The name is said to derive from a Chinese attempt to say the word business; the original pidgin, Pidgin English, was a trade jargon that arose from the seventeenth century onwards between British and Chinese merchants in ports such as Canton. The word pidgin is recorded from the 1840s and has become the usual linguistic term for any simplified contact language that allows groups that don’t have a language in common to communicate.

This is an early example of pidgin being used in the figurative sense:

We agreed that if anything went wrong with the pony after, it was not to be my “pidgin.”
The North-China Herald (Shanghai), 1 Aug. 1890.

Most early examples in English writing were spelled that way, though by the 1920s the pigeon form was being used by people who didn’t make the connection with the trade language.

Subnivean

Classical scholars will spot the wintry associations of this word; it derives from Latin nix for snow, which becomes niv- in compounds such as nivālis, snowy or snow-covered. Etymologists point out that the English snow and the Latin nix both ultimately derive from the same ancient Indo-European root. But then humans in Europe have long had plenty of experience of the white stuff.

About four centuries ago, English scholars borrowed nivālis to make the adjective nival to add to our snowy (though French got there first, at least a century earlier). We also have the more recent technical term nivation, not — as you might guess — meaning snowfall but the erosion of ground around and beneath a snow bank that is seasonally melting.

Subnivean is another member of the group, nearly two centuries old. This refers to something that happens underneath snow such as the activities of animals that survive winter beneath it.

Very recently that word has been joined by the linked noun subnivium for the area between soil surface and snowpack. It was coined by a group led by Jonathan Pauli of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They wrote in a paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment in June 2013: “For many terrestrial organisms in the Northern Hemisphere, winter is a period of resource scarcity and energy deficits, survivable only because a seasonal refugium — the ‘subnivium’ — exists beneath the snow.”

Black as Newgate knocker

Q From Jim Mitchell: As a child in South London, when I came in from playing and was a bit grubby my mother would say I looked as black as nookers nocker. My mother was born in 1917. I wonder if she might have heard this expression from her mother?

A It’s very probable. But not perhaps in that form. Your mother’s version is a mishearing of a Londoners’ expression that dates back in written records to 1881: black as Newgate knocker. It has also turned up in the forms black as Newker’s knocker, black as Nook’s knocker and black as Nugent’s knocker.

Curiously, though it has been in existence for more than a century and is currently not widely known, in writing it is now more often found than it has ever been, perhaps because it’s such an evocative item of historical Cockney slang. These days it almost always has an added apostrophe-s:

Her eyes really are black as Newgate’s knocker.
Sunday Times, 19 Jun. 1994.

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Newgate Exercise yard, 1872 by Gustave Doré

Newgate here refers to the notorious prison, originally created in medieval times in one of the turrets of Newgate, a main entrance through the walls into the City of London. Down the centuries the prison was rebuilt five times; it closed in 1902 and was demolished in 1904. The Central Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey, now stands on the site.

Newgate was a place of fear and loathing to many Londoners, not only criminals but also debtors, who were imprisoned there until they found a way to repay what they owed. After 1783, it was also the place where executions took place, initially on a public platform in front of the building, later inside. For most of its existence it was a noisome, dank, dark and unhealthy place to be incarcerated.

It’s not surprising that it should have been commemorated in expressions. But why not just black as Newgate? Why should its door knocker be selected as the source of the simile?

The phrase Newgate knocker itself is older. It was applied to a hairstyle fashionable among lower-class male Londoners such as costermongers. Though it became widely known from the 1840s, I’ve found a reference to it in the Kentish Gazette in 1781. It referred to a lock of hair twisted from the temple on each side of the head back towards the ear in the shape of a figure 6.

In 1851, Henry Mayhew wrote in his London Labour and the London Poor that a lad of about fourteen had told him that to be “flash” (stylish) hair “ought to be long in front, and done in ‘figure-six’ curls, or twisted back to the ear ‘Newgate knocker style’.” Eight years later, John Camden Hotten explained in his Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words that “The shape is supposed to resemble the knocker on the prisoners’ door at Newgate — a resemblance that carries a rather unpleasant suggestion to the wearer.” Another description came a couple of years later from another investigative social journalist, James Greenwood:

knockerAll, or nearly all, [were] bull-necked, heavy-jawed, and with the hair dressed after a fashion known among its patrons as the “Newgate knocker” style — that is, parted in masses on each side of the head and turned under unnaturally.
Illustrated Times (London), 16 Feb. 1861.

There’s no obvious connection with the colour black. We may guess, however, that Londoners would have imagined the prison’s knocker to be large and made of black iron as well as figuratively black because of its evil associations. We may also guess from the dates at which the two expressions were first current that Londoners took over the hairstyle phrase as a new way to describe the colour, as people have done for centuries with similes such as black as your hat, black as death, black as the ace of spades, black as thunder, and black as the Earl of Hell’s waistcoat.

As a postscript, I also found this, in a story from 60-odd years ago about the search by a journalist named Bernard O’Donnell for the original Newgate knocker:

His spasmodic search came to an end recently when he was in the office of the Keeper of the Old Bailey, Mr A W Burt. “Where is Newgate’s knocker?” he asked Mr Burt. Promptly it was shown to him. It was on the keeper’s desk. After years spent as a symbol which came to inspire dread among the poor of London, it had found a more useful rôle. It now makes an ideal paper weight.
The Scotsman, 24 April 1950.

Make of that what you will. I wonder if it still exists?

In the news

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Oxford Dictionaries announced its Word of the Year 2016 on 16 November: post-truth. Its editors defined this as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” One example came in a report in The Times on 31 October of comments by the president of the European Council on the signing of a trade deal with Canada:

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“Mr Tusk also denounced the ‘post-truth politics … on both sides of the Atlantic’ which nearly scuppered the deal because ‘facts and figures won’t stand up for themselves’ against an emotional opposition campaign.” Though it has been very much a word of this year, connected both with the Brexit referendum in the UK and the US presidential election, Oxford Dictionaries noted that “post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine.”

Last time I mentioned the Danish word hygge, a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being. This has become widely popular in Britain this year, and was one of Oxford Dictionaries’ runners-up as Word of the Year. For the background and the story of its rise in British English, I can’t do better than point you to an article by Charlotte Higgins in The Guardian on 22 November.Image result for post-truth

The newest British buzzword is jam. Not as in the “jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today” meaning of the Red Queen in Through the Looking-Glass — though the quip has been made several times by pundits — but as an acronym for “Just About Managing”. This refers to the estimated six million working-age British households on low to middle incomes who are struggling to stave off poverty from day to day. The term derives from a speech given by the new prime minister, Theresa May, just after she was chosen by MPs in July. She said of the members of this group, “You have a job but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying a mortgage. You can just about manage but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.” Her words became a catchphrase among commentators which has now been shortened.

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Lots of letters

Lots of letters

Boxing Day

Q From Burt Rubin; a related question came from Keith Denham: As an American, I’ve always wondered about the origin of the term Boxing Day.

A Boxing Day is a public holiday in Britain and most Commonwealth countries. There’s some minor confusion these days, in Britain at least, over which day it actually is. The reference books a century ago were adamant that it was the first working day after Christmas Day. However, the name is now frequently attached specifically to 26 December, even if it falls at the weekend, which makes it equivalent to the Christian saint’s day of St Stephen.

Image result for boxing dayWe have to go back to the early seventeenth century to find the basis for the name. The term Christmas box appeared about then for an earthenware box, something like a piggy bank, which apprentices and other workers took around immediately after Christmas to collect money. When the round was complete, the box was broken and the money distributed among the company. The first known example:

Tirelire, a Christmas box; a box having a cleft on the lid, or in the side, for money to enter it; used in Related imageFrance by begging Fryers, and here by Butlers, and Prentices, etc.
A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, by Randle Cotgrave, 1611.

By the eighteenth century, Christmas box had become a figurative term for any seasonal gratuity. By the nineteenth century their collection seems to have become a scourge in our big cities. When James Murray compiled an entry for Christmas box in the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in 1889, his splendidly acerbic description suggests that the practice had become a personal bugbear:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.

Though the term Boxing Day for the day on which such Christmas boxes were requested didn’t become widespread until early in the nineteenth century, a few examples are recorded from the previous century. The earliest I know of is this:

Related imageTuesday in Christmas Week, about Eight in the Evening, I was coming over this broad Place, and saw a Man come up to this lame Man, and knock him down — It was the Day after Boxing Day.
Transcript of a trial at the Old Bailey (London), 14 Jan. 1743.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the term seems to have become as closely associated with importuning individuals as Christmas Box itself:

“Boxing Day,” — the day consecrated to baksheesh, when nobody, it would almost seem, is too proud to beg, and when everybody who does not beg is expected to play the almoner. “Tie up the knocker — say you’re sick, you are dead,” is the best advice perhaps that could be given in such cases to any man who has a street-door and a knocker upon it.
Curiosities of London Life, by Charles Manby Smith, 1853.

The custom has died out, seasonal visitors to Britain may be assured, though small gifts are still sometimes given to tradesmen and suppliers of services. The favourite occupation of the day is attending football matches or rushing to the post-Christmas sales.

World Wide Words is written, edited and published in the UK by Michael Quinion. ISSN 1470-1448


World Wide Words Issue 931

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– WIF Style

Pun Central Catalog – WIF Wit and Humor

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Just My Type

Pun Central Catalog

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WIF Wit and Humor

Puns #1   Puns, Puns #1

Puns #2  Puns, Puns #2

Puns #3   Puns, Puns #3

Puns #4   “Did You Here the One….?”

Puns #5  I Heard Something Punny…

Puns #6   Punny Men

Puns #7   One Vote for Puns

Puns #8   Killer Puns

Puns #9   Illuminating Puns

Puns #10  Now Serving Tennis Puns

Puns #11  Covert Puns

Puns #12  Courting Legal Puns

Puns #13  Punny Money

Puns #14  Egotist Puns & Quotes

Puns #15  Post-Olympic Sporty Puns

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Puns #16  Hopeful Spring Puns

Puns #17  Sunny Puns

Puns #18  Puns Driving Humor

Puns #19  Familial Puns

Puns #20  Homespun Puns

Puns #21  Every Problem May Be a Punny One

Puns #22 Laborious Puns

Puns #23  Puns W/a Melody Image result for pun

Puns #24 Puns For Your Holiday

Puns #25  Spelling Puns

Puns #26  Irish Puns & Quotes

Puns #27  Puns Imported From Italy

Puns #28 Summer Sunday Puns

Puns #29  New Year Puns & Quotes

Puns #30  Presidential Puns

Puns #31  Nuts For Puns

Puns #32  Halloween Puns & Facts

Puns #33   Partisan Puns

Puns #34   Foolish Puns

Puns #35   Remembering Puns

Puns #36   Four (4) Fourth Puns

Puns #37   Sunny Puns Eclipse Edition


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