A few stolen minutes out of your day to talk words and communication. Let’s talk language tips for the curious or confused. Welcome to season 3. In our first two seasons, we talked about the language choices of Kurt Cobain, Judas Priest, and Destiny’s Child. We’ve talked about spelling hijacking and spelling revolutions of early America that didn’t quite catch steam. So sorry, Ben Franklin.
What’s in store for this season? Oh, just you wait.
The a British-Zimbabwean novelist Doris Lessing once said, “In the writing process, the more a thing cooks, the better.” It’s true, a story needs time. A writer needs time. But in so many of our efforts, time is an essential piece of the whole. It’s true for podcasts too, I suppose. But I’m happy to be back with you.
Season 3, Episode 1: The History of “Mesmerize” & Looking for the “Mother Lode” (or “Mother Load”?) of English Language Tips
The English language can be mesmerizing. In the hands of a talented wordsmith, you can be entranced. But, let’s start off with some word trivia. Do you know the origin of the word “mesmerize”?
I love this story.
Some words have their roots in other languages, but others have their roots in a good story that captured the public imagination. The history of “mesmerize,” my language-curious friends, is a case of the latter.
Let me set the stage:
Imagine eighteenth-century Vienna— its grand gardens and palaces, the elegance, grace, and symmetry of Mozart and Beethoven, and the imperial menagerie that would become today’s oldest continually operating zoo in the world. This Vienna was one of the most important political, artistic, and commercial capitals of the era.
In this setting, enter Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer, a physician who proposed a theory of how human and animal bodies react to the gravitational pull of the planets. “Animal gravitation,” he called it. And as his research continued, moving more and more into the laws of earth’s magnetic forces, this theory shifted to “animal magnetism.” With his work in this area, Dr. Mesmer based his medical practice on the idea that imbalances of fluids inside people’s bodies could be cured by the manipulation of magnets outside of their bodies.
Intriguing? Absolutely. At least that’s how many in eighteenth-century Vienna reacted, and Dr. Mesmer did quite well for himself using magnets and bringing his patients into an almost trance-like state during their treatments.
Over time, though, Dr. Mesmer was declared a fraud and decreed as a fake scientist. He was forced to leave Vienna, moved to Paris, and then was quickly under suspicion there as well.
But Dr. Mesmer’s work? It had been “mesmerizing,” as in it had held attention with captivation. It was transfixing, almost hypnotic, spellbinding, and captivating. This is the origin and history of “mesmerize,” a Venetian doctor with big ideas who may or may not have been manipulating the people around him. The story isn’t #fakenews, but the doctor’s theories might just have been.
So, as I was debating the pieces of this first podcast of Words You Should Know season 3, I wanted something awesome, something that might surprise you or catch you off guard, the mother lode of communication tips. And then it hit me. Mother lode. Are you spelling this correctly?
Mother earth. Mother ships. Mother of all spelling confusions.
Okay, maybe, it’s not the biggest of errors, but do you know whether to write “mother load” vs. “mother lode”?
I get the confusion. It’s not just a lot. It’s a massive amount. It’s the mother of all quantities. A “load” makes sense. But the problem is that this is not the spelling of this phrase.
Ooh, I feel you cringing, but it’s true.
The “lode” of “mother lode” is spelled l-o-d-e.
It was a phrase first used in 1863 in reference to mining. The place where the largest amount of gold could be found was called the “mother lode,” because a “lode” (yes, l-o-d-e) is a vein of a mineral within the earth. When the ’49ers went to California (I’m talking about the gold rush here, not the football team), they were looking for lodes of gold. Lodes, l-o-d-e-s. Of course, they were also looking for loads, l-o-a-d-s, as in lots, but that’s beside the point.
Is your mother going to wash your mouth out with soap for a “mother load” vs. “mother lode” typo? Hopefully not. Is she going to wash your messy, inky fingers? Maybe.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for more writing tips. A mother lode of them. But you don’t have to dig through dirt and craggy rocks to unearth them. I’ve been sharing my language notes and writing tips pretty much weekly since the fall of 2012, but you know what? I’m nowhere close to done. Thanks for that, confusing English language. Thanks oh-so-much for that.
Onward! Who’s with me?
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And if you’re looking for an Elements of Style for the Twitter Generation, check out my book, Get a Grip On Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused. Newbery-winning author Meg Medina says, “You should keep a copy on your desk.” Sounds like good advice to me!
Words. Language. Communications. You’ve got this.