Where’s the proof? In the pudding? Clichéd confusion

I just heard someone else say, “the proof is in the pudding.” What’s that supposed to mean? Sayings become clichés for a reason. They express a thought in a short, easily memorable form that people over a wide range of time and geography want to express. So it gets used over and over. Sometimes people get careless and don’t say it correctly. All meaning goes out the window, but unfortunately, the mangled version sometimes takes on a life of its own. It becomes as common as the correct, meaningful version, or maybe even more common.

4 library tips for busy college students

Writing papers and preparing for other assignments can take a lot of time. You can probably think of all kinds of other things you’d rather do with your time. Worse than time spent researching and writing papers is time wasted researching and writing papers. Here’s how to put your time to productive use:

The Library of Congress Turns a Page

The Librarian of Congress is not an official who makes the news often, but the current Librarian of Congress, James Billington, announced his retirement last June. President Obama will appoint the next Librarian of Congress, becoming only the 10th President to have that opportunity. Billington was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987. You know that the Library of Congress is the library, well, of Congress. Congress created a library for its own use very early in the nation’s history. But it has become more than that. It’s America’s unofficial national library. It affects the workings of every other library in … Continue reading

How search engines and library catalogs work

Online library catalog

You know how to use a search engine. Decide what keywords you want to search and type them into the search box. Then see if the results returned the information you expected. Do you know how to use a library catalog? Even though you will probably see a single search box like a search engine’s, if you expect it to work the same way you will be frustrated. That single search box is not the only way to search the catalog. It’s not even the best way. If you see a link to “advanced search,” click on it. Once you … Continue reading

What Everyone Ought to Know about Disasters: FEMA Website

FEMA relief effort

You don’t want to deal with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It’s not because it’s a federal bureaucracy, which is bad enough. It’s because the only time they come to town is when you’ve suffered a catastrophe: severe weather, wildfires, earthquakes, or various manmade disasters like chemical spills. You don’t want to deal with them. But it’s a good idea to look at the FEMA website. The home page is simple and attractive. The site itself is many layers deep and may require some hunting to find exactly what you need to know. It contains information not only for … Continue reading

Eggcorns, a new word for misused pears

misused pears

Children eventually stop growing. The English language does not. Most new words catch popular fancy for a while, and then drop out of site. Quite a few eventually get recognized by major dictionaries. Merriam-Webster just added 1,700 new words. “Eggcorn” now takes its place alongside malapropism, spoonerism, and mondegreen to describe a losing battle with using or understanding words. A malapropism substitutes a completely wrong word, as when Mrs. Malaprop (in the third act of The Rivals by Richard Sheridan) declares, “Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice … Continue reading

Government websites: National Park Service

Yellowstone national park service

This installment of the occasional series on federal government websites looks at the National Park Service. Travel season will be here before we know it, and the national parks make wonderful vacation destinations. Nearly everyone knows parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but the National Park Service operates 407 national parks, national monuments, and other properties. Click on “Find a Park” in the header menu to find parks by name, location, activity, and topic. Here are the ones that begin with the letter E. Ebey’s Landing Edgar Allen Poe Effigy Mounds Eisenhower El Camino Real de los Tejas El … Continue reading

Writers write about reading, writing, research


Not everyone who reads is doing research. Not everyone who does research in the broadest sense (looking up useful information) writes about it. But everyone who publishes research must read first. Indeed, anyone writes anything must read first. A friend of mine wrote an autobiography, and compiled as much documentation as he could find in order to refresh his memory and insure accuracy. Novelists must not only read other literature voraciously, but if they want respect for their novels, must conduct research to make sure that they describe places, customs, etc. accurately. Whatever else they write about, writers often write … Continue reading

Innovative library services: some kudos and a rant

student writing

Libraries exist to serve the needs of their public. Traditionally they have existed to serve needs for information and entertainment. That accounts for the books, periodicals, computer resources, and audiovisual collections, but not necessarily every service or collection. The Helen Plum Library in Lombard, Illinois lends out paintings and sculptures. I found the sculptures handy when I was teaching a humanities course, but apparently most people borrow them just to redecorate their homes for a short time. In earlier posts 3 unusual and unexpected library services and 5 more unusual and unexpected library services I have called attention to unusual ways academic and public … Continue reading

Reference books and sets you must read in print

reference books in print

In my last post, about editing, I cited my father’s entry in Contemporary Authors, a still-growing set with more than 200 printed volumes. I couldn’t find the photocopy I made several years ago when I first stumbled across it. I found an online version in WorldCat, but it’s available only at 8 libraries, none within 500 miles of my home. I had to go to a local library to consult the print version. How many other important reference works are available only in print?