In 2013, Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station recorded his version of David Bowie’s Space Oddity. It is fantastic. Watch it.
Text: Solveig Hansen
“The pen is mightier than the sword,” we frequently say, even more so after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The man to thank for this phrase is Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873).
Cambridge Dictionaries defines this idiom as “thinking and writing have more influence on people than the use of force or violence.” Isn’t that what writers aspire to: find the right composition of words that moves and shakes and transforms – or maybe puts a smile on the reader’s face?
The pencil & sword analogy is not a new one. In the biblical Epistle to the Hebrews, for instance, verse 4:12 reads: “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.”
According to Wikipedia, “The pen is mightier than the sword” as a phrase was coined by English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his historical play about Cardinal Richelieu (1839). Richelieu discovers a plot to kill him, but as a priest he cannot take up arms against his enemies. His page, Francis, tells him: But now, at your command are other weapons, my good Lord. Richelieu agrees: The pen is mightier than the sword, he says, Take away the sword; States can be saved without it!
A literature critic wrote that Bulwer-Lytton had achieved something that few men could hope to do: write a line that is likely to live for ages. Of course, today we just call them one-liners.
Although the phrase was penned by Bulwer-Lytton, there are earlier texts emphasizing the power of words:
Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying: The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.
William Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, Act 2: … many wearing rapiers are afraid of goosequills.
Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly said: Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.
Going back to the 4th century BC, the Greek playwright Euripides supposedly wrote: The tongue is mightier than the blade.
Try to run your name through the Internet Anagram Server and use the generated words to write a self-portrait poem. I had 15,549 anagrams generated for me, among them “Heaven Sings,” “Heaven Longs,” and “Vegan Shoes” – a combination too brilliant not to use in a poem.
HEAVEN-BOUND ON HIGH HEELS
and Heaven longs.
Heaven will have to wait
while I totter through life
in my red vegan shoes
(c) 2013 Zol H.
With a little CSS knowledge you can add a background image to a blog post in WordPress. In this post, I have set the image width to 100% and the height to the actual number of pixels. For the text, I chose a white text box. Here’s the code:
<div style="background-image: url('image URL'); width: 100%; height: actual_number_of_px; background-position: center; background-repeat: no-repeat;"> This is the code for the text box: <div style="margin: 15px 25px 0; text-align: left; padding: 25px 25px 8px; background-color: #ffffff;"> Here you type your text. </div> </div>
A man and his cat.
CAPTION: Two sets of footprints in the snow. One belongs to a man. The other, to his right, is from light cat paws. The man and his cat walk side by side the short hill up from the house. Halfway up, the cat prints stop and the man turns to the cat. Maybe he says, No, you cannot come with me, not today either. The cat turns right and disappears into the garden. The man keeps walking. His right foot seems heavier than the left one. He turns for a moment to see if the cat is still there. Then they both go, each to their day.
An every morning ritual, depicted in the fresh snow on the ground.
Text: Solveig Hansen
“To be expert in typewriting means to be able to write without error, and at the same time rapidly and with evenness of touch, any kind of business document.” (Remington handbook, 1890)
I have a thing for old black-and-white movies in which journalists bang away at their Underwoods, hat pushed back on their head, a cigarette in the corner of their mouth. I like the clack-clack-clack of typewriters and then the “ding” at the end of the line.
Although retro today, typewriters were once state-of-the-art machines. That is a simple fact I was reminded of when I stumbled upon Lovisa Ellen Bullard Barnes’ book How to Become Expert in Typewriting. A Complete Instructor Designed Especially for the Remington Typewriter (1890), described below.Typewriters are still being used. Why? BBC.com lists five reasons why, ranging from refuseniks to cool to lack of electricity to aesthetics to wedding invitations. There are still companies servicing typewriters, and you can still buy ribbons.
If you want to go retro without giving up the comfort of new technology, convert your typewriter into a computer keyboard or iPad dock using Jack Zylkin’s USB Typewriter Conversion Kit.
Or, get a typewriter app like Tom Hanks’ Hanx Writer.
Great links if you want the real thing:
Buying a Typewriter: What You Need to Know
Portable Typewriters: A virtual museum of typewriters
A complete Remington manual from 1890
Lovisa Ellen Bullard Barnes’ book How to Become Expert in Typewriting. A Complete Instructor Designed Especially for the Remington Typewriter has been digitalized. It is an interesting read, written by one who knew her craft and shared her knowledge, to heighten the skills of professional typists. Today, 100+ years later, we are reminded of how things were then, and of differences and similarities.
Recognizing the need for trained typists, Barnes not only explains the components of the typewriter and how to maintain it, but she also gives typing lessons and business letter examples and explains the rules of punctuation. The typing lessons include well known pangrams like “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and “Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs.” (See the post on Ella Minnow Pea for more on pangrams.)
In the Preface, Barnes writes:
The typewriter is so ingenious and simple in its construction that the average person can learn to write words on it in ten minutes’ time. Hence the long popular belief that no special instruction is needed, but that a few days’ practice alone will enable one to become a competent and valuable operator. This fallacy has brought disappointment and failure to many a bread-winner, has been the cause of untold annoyance to employers, and has forced capable and conscientious teachers to let their students go out unprepared because public opinion refused the time and expense necessary to learn properly the art of typewriting. As a natural result, business men are now complaining bitterly of the incompetency of applicants, even when they are the product of so-called business schools.
Like in any other line of work, to become a good business correspondent, training is required:
To be expert in typewriting means to be able to write without error, and at the same time rapidly and with evenness of touch, any kind of business document. It means to know how to care for the machine, to understand its workings, to be able to write on paper narrow or wide, ruled or unruled, on envelopes and postal cards, to manifold distinctly, to typewrite from dictation, to take manuscript that is badly written and poorly punctuated and to transform it into a correctly spelled and punctuated and business-like document, […] so that they shall be correct in form and artistic in appearance, rivaling printing in accuracy, and a work of art in perfection of detail.
Touch typing is key:
To learn to write by touch, that is, with only an occasional glance at the key-board, sit directly in front of the machine. Keep the hands as nearly as possible in one position over the key-board. When striking the space key with one hand, keep the location of the keys with the other. Write very slowly at first, and after every two or three words glance at the fingers to see if they are on the right keys. As you continue to practice, look less and less at the key-board, only often enough to make sure that you are writing accurately. When you can write the whole exercise without once looking at the fingers, then begin to increase your speed, but very gradually, that you may not fall into error.
Observe the end of line bell:
The bell rings to warn the writer that he is approaching the end of the line. Seven letters can be written after the bell rings. This gives time to finish a word, or to properly divide it, writing the whole of a syllable at the end of the line, placing a hyphen after it, and writing the remainder of the word on the next line. Beginners are apt to pay too little attention to the bell. They continue writing until the carriage ceases to move, and until they have printed several letters one over another.
Remember to change the ribbon:
Beginners sometimes fail to notice that they have reached the end of the ribbon until they have made a hole in it by the type constantly striking the same spot, or until the ribbon is so tight that the machine refuses to work ; then they wonder what is the matter with their typewriter.
Fancy borders are appropriate in many kinds of miscellaneous work. It adds greatly to their appearance to print them in different colors.
Bad spelling is always inexcusable. It has cost many a typewriter operator his position, and rightly too. In these days of cheap books no one has a right to remain ignorant, and bad spelling from carelessness is a thousand times worse than bad spelling from ignorance, a thousand times more provoking and inexcusable.
On the more curious side is the section on how to succeed in the workplace. It is about being hard-working and quick to learn (“Do everything a little better than you are expected to. Be cheerful and obliging when asked to do work outside of your line.”), avoiding unnecessary conversation (“Young ladies especially should understand this, and should cultivate that modest dignity which is so becoming in a woman wherever she goes.”), dressing properly (“plainly but attractively”), and keeping “not only your hands and face and teeth, but your whole person, scrupulously clean.”
Read it. It gives a glimpse into the early days of typewriting.