Unexpectedly Afoot

Once in a while, a TV commercial stays with me. More often than not, I’m sorry to admit, it’s because the commercial gets on my nerves.

 

When I tell you which commercial is annoying me the most these days, you might be surprised! I am a big fan of poetry, and one of my favorite American poets is Walt Whitman. So, you might expect that I would LOVE the Volvo S90 commercial that features an excerpt from Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.” Quite the contrary! The first time I saw the commercial, it irked me—and I couldn’t figure out why. However, after seeing it multiple times in an hour of TV-watching, I soon realized the problem: the very first word of the commercial!

 

I do have a penchant for words that have a storied history but are not in frequent use in English these days, and the commercial’s first word, “afoot,” is one such word. Volvo begins advertising its luxury sedan with the same words that begin Whitman’s poem: “Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road.” A lovely sentiment! Lovely, though, for a person who is walking—not so desirable for one who expects to be driving a luxury sedan. “Afoot,” of course, means “on foot.” If one is driving the Volvo S90 while simultaneously afoot, perhaps the car pictured in the commercial should look more like this:

 

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I somehow doubt that this is the image that Volvo intended to conjure up in the minds of the ad’s audience!

 

Unity of message in word and image is pretty important, isn’t it?

 

If you know someone who works at Volvo Car Corporation, feel free to pass along my card. I’ll be happy to review their future advertising campaigns before they launch!

 

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Believe!

When I returned home from the North Pole this morning, I was very tired from my hard work with the elves! I was happy to find, along with many presents from Santa, a special gift that good friends had brought for our family: this Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus ornament. They know how much I love the letter that Francis Pharcellus Church wrote to little Virginia O’Hanlon more than a century ago.

I immediately hung the ornament on our tree.

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This letter was not part of the work I did with the elves this month. Still, it is very important for them to read the letter every once in a while, as a reminder of why they do what they do. I’m including the letter here for the elves to read—I understand that many of them now follow my blog! While you’re here, you might as well read it, too. The Christmas season is just beginning—and without faith and belief, we wouldn’t celebrate Christmas at all!

May you and your loved ones experience all the joy your hearts can hold this holiday!

And now this, from The Sun—September 21, 1897:

“We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—

I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

Virginia O’Hanlon
115 West Ninety Fifth Street

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.

We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Assist me in assisting Santa!

As part of my work to optimize communication in order to make Santa’s travels safe this Christmas Eve, I was invited to participate in a very special mission today: a test run of Santa’s route! Did you notice anything unusual earlier this afternoon? It was just the elves and me stopping time for a moment to take a spin around the world on Santa’s sleigh.

While most of my work as Santa’s communications consultant has focused on helping the elves communicate effectively, today I focused on signs that Santa will need to read in order to stay on course.

We began our rounds in the United States. Working our way from west to east, we wrapped up our trip to the United States in Virginia. As we passed over the Yankee Candle Village in Williamsburg, I told the elves about the wonders inside. Of course, they wanted to run in to see for themselves. They took so many selfies, as well as this picture of me.

 

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Pardon the blurriness–the elves were a little bit excited.

Immediately after our Yankee Candle stop, we made our way to the Williamsburg Pottery. This is a wonderful market that offers a tremendous variety of goods made in Williamsburg and around the world. Each year, Santa likes to stop there to purchase a gift for Mrs. Claus. During our quick trip through the parking lot, we noticed this sign. I asked the reindeer to halt for a moment so that I could snap a picture.

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What’s wrong with this picture?

Would you like a chance to win a Colonial Williamsburg cookbook and bar of Colonial Williamsburg Festive Pineapple soap? Then visit my Facebook page and comment on the post featuring the sign to let me know what’s wrong with the sign and how it can be fixed.

When I heard “the prancing and pawing of each little hoof,” I knew that the reindeer were itching to fly across the Atlantic. The elves and I gave the signal, and we continued our trip around the world. We checked all 7 continents for clear signage for Santa. It was an exciting but exhausting day. I think it’s time for me to go to bed!

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Settling my brain for a long winter’s nap

A sneak peek into Santa’s magical bag

Since I have an important role in helping Santa arrive at his billions of destinations this year, I have top security clearance at the North Pole. This afternoon, I even got to take a glance into Santa’s bag! I noticed a superabundance of books. Upon closer examination, I realized that many of the books have the same title: New Jersey Folk Revival Music: History & Tradition. I was not surprised!

Before reporting to the North Pole for duty, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to read this book, published just this month by The History Press. My friend Michael Gabriele is the author. I have always known Michael’s writing to be entertaining and informative. While folk revival music in New Jersey doesn’t involve many symphonies, the effect of this book is absolutely symphonic. Michael weaves together sparkling threads of history, biography, music appreciation, and eyewitness reminiscences, bringing the fascinating story of folk music in New Jersey to life.

Do you know someone who likes music? Enjoys learning about local history? Appreciates creative and clear expression? Lives in New Jersey? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should most certainly follow Santa’s lead and get this book for anyone (and maybe even everyone!) on your Christmas shopping list.

Trust me: Santa would never steer you wrong!

recommended by Santa

recommended by Santa

(New Jersey Folk Revival Music: History & Tradition is available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, other online booksellers, and local booksellers.)

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Vort—

Snowflake the elf is in charge of monitoring weather conditions worldwide in order to help Santa plan his path of travel. Since this is a monumental job, he has a whole team of elves working with him, each specializing in the weather of a different geographic region.

The meteorologist elves get very excited when meteorological terms become widely used in common parlance. A few years ago, they were positively gleeful (but aren’t they always?) when the polar vortex overtook much of the United States, garnering so much attention on the news and in everyday conversation.

Snowflake and his team are so careful in their observation that they noted long before other meteorologists that more than one polar vortex was sweeping down across the northern United States this month. As they began to analyze this weather pattern, though, they ran into a problem—a linguistic one! You see, the elves weren’t sure of the plural of vortex. Vortexes? It just doesn’t sound right.

This morning, Snowflake got over his embarrassment about not knowing how to pluralize vortex and asked me how his team should express the plural of vortex. Not knowing how was causing them a great deal of confusion! I let them know that the plural is vortices. Vortex is from Latin, and it is a variant of vertex. While both vertices and vertexes are acceptable plurals of vertex, the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that vortices is the only way to pluralize vortex at this time.

Although I love learning about weather phenomena, meteorology is not my area of expertise. Still, I was able to help Snowflake and his team carry out their duties. Now that they know that the plural of vortex is vortices, they can communicate confidently about as many vortices as they wish! This might prove to be very important to the safety of Santa, the reindeer, and the entire delivery team on Christmas Eve.

When I was eight years old, I hoped to be a meteorologist when I grew up. Today’s work might be the closest I’ll get!

Me, pummeled by 2 polar vortices

Me, pummeled by 2 polar vortices

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No need to fear!

This morning, while I was sitting at my gingerbread desk, I looked out the window and saw Dasher, Dancer, and Prancer playing some reindeer games a little bit too close to Santa’s sleigh. A couple of the elves arrived at the gilded vehicle within seconds, and I could see that the elves were excoriating the hooved hooligans. I opened my window to hear what they were saying. Jingles, the sleigh specialist, was yelling:

“We’ve told you a hundred times, you reindeer—it’s dangerous to play too close to Santa’s sleigh! You’re running back and forth, slipping and sliding on the ice. You’re going to hurt yourselves, and you might also damage the sleigh when you hit it with your antlers. Please play your reindeer games elsewhere! We’re afraid of your safety, and of Santa’s safety, too!”

The trio of tricksters began to snicker. At this, the elves became incensed. I figured it was time for me to step in, so I hastened to the scene.

Jingles told me that he did not understand why the reindeer were guffawing at him. After all, they knew the rules about avoiding reindeer games near the sleigh! I reminded Jingles that flying reindeer are linguistically astute, and they likely were giggling because of what he had said to them.

“How was it funny?” he asked.

I responded, “Well, you told the reindeer that you’re afraid of their safety and Santa’s safety.”

He insisted, “I am!”

I explained to him that if he were afraid of their safety, he would be apprehensive of the prospect of their safety. “I think you mean that you’re afraid for their safety,” I proposed. “If you’re afraid for their safety, you’re concerned about their welfare and you want to make sure that they’re safe.”

“Yes, that’s it!” exclaimed the newly enlightened elf. “I’m afraid for their safety. How’s that, Dasher, Dancer, and Prancer?”

The three reindeer nodded to signal their approval.

I asked them, “You won’t play your reindeer games close to the sled any more, right?”

Again, they nodded.

Jingles no longer has to be afraid of their antics, nor does he need to fear for their safety. Success!

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Santa’s communications consultant, take 2!

One of my favorite special jobs as the Graceful Grammarian was serving as Santa’s communications consultant in December of 2014. Santa asked me to help English speakers all over the world to communicate their requests to him clearly. Last December, he didn’t call me in for duty because I was very busy and feeling quite queasy.

 

This December, I’m back on duty! Santa has once again granted me the esteemed title of “Honorary Elf.” My task this month is to help the elves themselves communicate clearly and effectively. Santa has noticed that the elves’ sloppiness in English usage has had a deleterious effect on their planning for his travels on Christmas Eve. I agree with Santa: clear communication can lead to a very happy holiday! So, I packed our bags, and my little elf and I made our way to the North Pole earlier this week.

 

Junior Honorary Elf

Junior Honorary Elf

 

Now that we have acclimated ourselves to our chilly surroundings, I would like to share with you some of the work I’ll be doing with the elves this year. Stick with me to vicariously enjoy a vacation in the coolest place on earth!

 

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