Linguistic shenanigans & writing tidbits

–by Joel Patton

Distressions [1] & Digressions [2]


The other day [3], I passed a housepainter’s van. It advertised a variety of services, including the first part of the title of this essay: distressions [4].

I immediately knew the meaning of the word, though I’d never seen or heard it used before, because of an acquaintance’s work experience, to wit [5]:

Said acquaintance worked part-time for a cabinetmaker. My friend can’t carpent [6], but he didn’t need to. His employer and his regular employees would build brand-new $40,000 banks of kitchen cabinets, and my friend, armed with awls [7], rusty chains [8], sandpaper [9], and the like, would make them look like hundred-year-old $40,000 banks of kitchen cabinets. Continue reading

Logophily: Dreams & Writer’s Block

linguistic shenanigans and writing tidbits

~by Joel Patton


OK, I’m gonna write about a dream [1].

If you want to skip to the part where I give suggestions to combat writer’s block, I understand. There’s some majuscule text below… head down to that section.

So, the dream: someone called me up, and asked me to contribute sixteen bars [2] to some sort of side project [3].

We had a meeting, and I was nervous. I couldn’t come up with a single couplet [4]. He told me wander off for a half-hour, come up with at least a rough outline, and report back.

I sat at a table in the sort of place one dreams about sitting [5], and I tried to write. Nothing. Meanwhile, two members of the group [6] were playfully and effortlessly freestyling nearby. I reported back to my contact, who was disappointed in a stern, nothing-at-stake-for-him sort of way.

I woke up and was mildly exasperated: while I’d been trying to force my brain to create loosely structured verse, my brain created two entire dudes effortlessly spouting two separate but intertwined sets of loosely structured verse [7].


What’s the moral lesson here? Per usual, I don’t know. But I won’t let that stop me from suggesting things.

It’s easier to escape from writer’s block if the pressure is off. There’s no insight there, but keep going [8].

The fact that I was (unconsciously, in this case) using personae freed things up, too: Joel-as-Joel [9] couldn’t come up with anything, but Joel-as-two-established-rappers [10] could.

Composition for them felt effortless, as though it was taking place in a different part of my brain [11], so maybe there are different ways to take advantage of that, too.

I don’t actually remember the verses they (which is to say, I) came up with, but I bet that however good they sounded at the time, they were in fact abysmal [12].

Or they might have been plagiarized. I don’t recommend outright copying and interpolation as a technique for writing something publishable [13], but lifting plots or repurposing details is more or less essential. It’s what both dreams and literature consist of. The standard dream example is the impossible hybrid public building mashup [14]. As far as literary examples go, here’s a sort of cliché one: Shakespeare didn’t come up with the original story for Troilus and Cressida… he cribbed from Chaucer, who’d cribbed from Boccacio. Another classic literary example is the general design of the Millennium Falcon, which George Lucas demonstrated to designers by placing an olive to next to a hamburger.

The thing that seems to help the most is allowing failure to be an option. That’s not always possible, I know. And not everyone would appreciate the sort of wabi-sabi quality that I generally advocate for [15]. But if you have both the problem I started with and the luxuries I’ve mentioned at the end, the resulting mess might be compelling.


1. Remember that creative writing instructors hate that shit: http://pankmagazine.com/2012/07/10/dreams-creative-writing-instructors-hate-that-shit/

2. Which is to say, a full rap verse. I’m a dilettante, but this would be a career stretch.

3. The sort of side project that is invariably terrible. I made a mental note of this in-dream. I suppose that all dream notes are by definition mental notes, but then all notes are mental notes, if we’re getting all philosophical and shit.

4. Not even a set of words. and I can almost always do that. Here, have some: oubliette / googly jet.

5. The nighttime sort of dream table rather than the daydream sort of dream table, sadly.

6. 22.22222% of the crew.

7. Don’t misunderstand me: I’m sure that the things they were saying were in fact really dumb. But at least I was extemporizing something that scanned.

8. There’s none later, either.

9. Looks as though someone’s got a new rap name!

10. Looks as though someone’s got two new rap names! Or three, I guess maybe.

11. The phrase “a different part of the brain” is effectively meaningless in a literal sense, but it’s a handy metaphor.

12. Writing in and about dreams typically is.

13. Or at all, unless you’re capable of excising the stolen bits entirely, or using them as acknowledged pastiche.

14. Followed by the morning standard rambling explanation of the ways in which it was the one place but then also the other place but really (&c).

15. It’s also possible that I’m just kinda sloppy.


Joel Patton is a potter in Travelers Rest, SC.

Logophily: More Birds

linguistic shenanigans and writing tidbits

~by Joel Patton

Crow[1]. Merle[2]. Gull [3]. Raven [4].
Raptor [5].
Falcon and tercel [6].
Parrot. Parakeet [7].
Hawk [8]. Kite [9]. Shrike [10].
Jay [11]. Swallow [12]. Starling [13].
Woodpecker. Sandlapper [14]. Plover [15].
Wing. Feather. Pinion [16].
Buzzard [17]. Gizzard [18]. Crop [19].
Vulture [20]. Stork [21].
Avian. Ornitho- [22]. All the way back to bird [23]. Continue reading

Logophily: Spelling Reform


linguistic shenanigans and writing tidbits

~by Joel Patton



English pronunciation surely requires a doughty constitution [1]. Imagine for a moment a world in which English spelling followed simple, logical rules, such that even a nonspeaker could tell at a glance how a word is pronounced.

And keep imagining it, because that shit will not happen.

Here are a few reasons why:

As with the QWERTY keyboard, we’re stuck with an odd system for historical reasons.  It would be hard to fix things now, even if we could all agree on a solution [2] [3]. There are a few historical reasons for these insane and nonsensical variations of pronunciation and spelling.  English spellings were standardized centrally, by late-medieval bureaucrats, more or less by fiat [4].  The influence of French, which has fourteen different ways of spelling no sound at all at the end of a word [5], has continued nearly a thousand years past the Battle of Hastings.  At some point, English stopped anglicizing the spellings of foreign words [6].  The Great Vowel Shift happened [7]. Continue reading