What’s in your ‘glove’ compartment?


Source: Q4RadioGuy, Wikimedia Commons

I might have been a spelling bee champion when I was younger, but these days, I find myself checking the dictionary more than ever. There seem to be more exceptions than rules these days, and the other day I was nosy about the word “glove box,” which I gather is what many folks up north call what I’ve always referred to as a “glove compartment.”

And that got me to thinking, why do we continue to call this feature either a “glove box” or a “glove compartment” when it most likely hasn’t held any gloves a) ever or b) even in a vintage car, not for a few decades? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, either of these terms can be used to refer to “a small storage cabinet in the dashboard of an automobile.” And you probably won’t be surprised to learn the word’s first known use was in 1916, at which time I imagine gloves were indeed being stored in automobiles. An article on Wikipedia (so take this for what it’s worth) says,  “Driving gloves were considered necessary equipment in early cars, many of which lacked a hard top, to prevent the cooling effect of fast-moving air from numbing drivers’ hands.”

I propose we come up with another term for the glove compartment. Here are some contenders:

  • Vehicle junk drawer
  • Mobile storage bin
  • Drop-down compartment
  • Car-manual storage

What’s in your glove compartment? I’ll bet it’s not gloves. Mine currently contains my car’s owner manual, a pair of wooden knitting needles (I must have been knitting on a road trip when my husband drove my car), and extra napkins and straws from fast-food restaurants. Language changes, and this is a case where it’s time to retire “glove compartment” and find a more useful, more accurate term.

Next up: I’m on a mission to get everyone to stop saying they’re “dialing” numbers on their cell phones or that they’ve got someone “on the line.” I’ll let you know how it goes!

The Declaration of Independence: Read it if you dare!

800px-USA_declaration_independenceI remember as a young girl hearing about the famous 1938 broadcast of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, a broadcast that caused at least a few listeners  to panic when they believed the Halloween-weekend broadcast was real and that Martians were genuinely invading America. “How gullible can people be?” I thought.

This week, I got my answer. I thought this story was a joke at first, but apparently NPR’s new Fourth of July tradition of tweeting the Declaration of Independence on Twitter spooked a few partisan-minded Twitter users, whose responses made it clear they weren’t familiar with the document. They said things like:

• “So, NPR is calling for revolution. Interesting way to condone the violence while trying to sound ‘patriotic.’ Your implications are clear.”

• “Propaganda is that all you know how? (sic) Try supporting a man who wants to do something about the Injustice in this country.”

• And someone else just thought the tweets meant “NPR has been hacked, tweeting like crazy!”

No matter which side of the political aisle you’re on, I hope we can all agree that the tweeting of the Declaration of Independence on Twitter shouldn’t provoke outrage in anyone. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at those who thought it was a modern-day call for “revolution,” but I did decide that I’m joining the chorus of those who suggest we all take a moment on the Fourth of July each year to read the Declaration of Independence. A Library of Congress website page about the DOI is available here, and I plan to have this handy for sharing next year!



Have you heard of artificial imagination?

imagesI recently received a business magazine in the mail that hooked me immediately with this line: “Artificial Imagination—Using digital technology to unlock human creativity.” The Summer 2017 issue of Strategy + Business magazine discusses both artificial intelligence, which I was slightly familiar with, and artificial imagination, which I was not.

Something about the term “artificial imagination” made me bristle, but as I read the article, I chilled a bit. The article began with the tale of a 2016 pop song released in Japan, “Daddy’s Car,” which was written by an artificial intelligence system. According to the article by Deborah Bothun and David Lancefield, “The melody and harmony were composed by AI (artificial intelligence), and a human musician mixed the sound and wrote lyrics for the track.”

Elsewhere in the article, artificial intelligence is referred to as “technology endowed with creative intelligence.” In a way, I’ve already seen some of this technology. I recently learned about an editing program that performs many of the same functions I provide as a fiction editor. It looks for misspelled words and poor grammar. It looks for word repetition. It looks for passive sentence construction and slow plotting.

But when I tried a free sample of this editing program for myself, I could also see its drawbacks. The program couldn’t tell me whether it was okay to break a grammar rule in a particular case, as a human could. At no point in the sample edit did it say, “What a great line!” That’s something I try to do for the authors I work with as a way of encouraging them. I got the feeling the program would let me know what was unquestionably incorrect, but I found no way for it to let me know what was beautiful, or moving, or meaningful—or even confusing and in need of clarification.

Still, I agree with the article’s premise that AI needn’t be automatically seen as a threat to human creativity. I like the idea of using AI to give me more time and energy to pursue the creative endeavors I most enjoy. As the article states, “AI gives humans more space to generate more value—to unleash creativity, to exercise judgment, and to think about the flow of their work rather than the processes that govern it.” And I’m certainly all for unleashing creativity—in myself and others.

Dictionary spellings and variants

Preferred spellingsWhen the dictionary lists more than one spelling of a word, which one should you use? I like to use the preferred spelling.

Do you know which of these common words is preferred? I know only because I’ve had to look them up for books I’ve edited over the past few years that the favored spellings are barbecue, doughnut, and drive-through. If you look these up in the dictionary, you will find, for instance, “barbecue also barbeque.” What does that also mean? Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Eleventh Edition, says, “When another spelling is joined to the main entry by the word also, the spelling after also occurs appreciably less often and thus is considered a secondary variant.”

Sometimes, though, you’ll find two words listed and joined by or, not also. The dictionary notes, “When a main entry is followed by the word or and another spelling, the two spellings occur with equal or nearly equal frequency and can be considered equal variants. Both are standard, and either one may be used according to personal inclination.” An example from the color world? “Ocher or ochre.” Either is fine, and my “personal inclination” is to use ochre.

Do you use preferred spellings? Did you know there was such a thing?