Tabs on Writing

The Business of Business Writing by John Tabellione, Principal at

Flu Strain: Bad Influence Across U.S.

Posted by John on 16 January 2018 | No responses

As someone finally recuperating from terrible flu-like symptoms for the past six days, I can attest to the fact that it was a nasty strain this season, and I had the extra-strength vaccination. Go figure.

“Flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now,” said Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at the national Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “This is the first year we have had the entire continental U.S. be the same color on the graph, meaning there is widespread activity in all of the continental U.S. at this point.”

The word “flu,” is derived from the Italian word, influenza, from the mid-18th century, and literally means ‘”influence,” which, in turn comes from the medieval Latin influentia. These similar sounding words can also refer to “an outbreak of an epidemic,” and they were applied specifically to an influenza epidemic that began in Italy in 1743.

I seem to recall that when I was growing up, we used another old-fashioned word to describe a bad winter illness, i.e., you had the what was called “the grippe,” a French word, which means “seizure,” such as a bad illness.

Rather than groan and moan and gripe about being sick when I was a kid, you were told to simply “get a grip,” drink plenty of fluids, dine on chicken soup, and learn to bear with it.

Same advice applies today!




Researchers Find Fault with Regard to Worst Earthquake in European History: Italy 1908

Posted by John on 28 December 2017 | No responses

On this date in 1908–December 28th–Europe’s deadliest earthquake in history struck Messina, Sicily, and the town of Reggio di Calabria, located directly on the toe of the Italian peninsula, killing nearly 120,000 people. The seismic tremor recorded 7.5 on the Richter Scale, and subsequently triggered a 40-foot high tsunami. It is estimated that 90 percent of the buildings were destroyed in both cities.

Socio-political fault may be partially attributed to the laxity of the government at that time, which was forced by the tragedy to establish a more rigorous building code. Furthermore, it took a week for officials to respond to the crisis, and it wasn’t until January 9th that martial law and some sense of security was restored.

Geological fault may be related, coincidentally, to news announced the other day on December 22nd. Researchers have discovered a system of deep fissures amounting to what they call a genuine ‘window’ under the Ionian Sea within this general area–between the mainland and the Mediterranean’s largest island–called the Strait of Messina.

This region is close to where the African and European tectonic plates collide, making it an historically volatile location: in 1693 a major earthquake was recorded, followed by another violent one in 1783, which was the precursor of 20 more serious earthquakes over the next 125 years.

The conclusions of the recent research may help to explain Sicily’s slow but progressive movement away from Reggio di Calabria, as well as the high earthquake risk there. “The numerous oceanographic campaigns carried out in the area have revealed a broad system of fault lines not far from the coast that can now be monitored,” said the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), or National Research Council. The Council is an Italian public organization headquartered in Rome established to support scientific and technological research.

Personally speaking, several years ago, as recorded in my travel guidebook, Pit Stops, Pitfalls & Olive Pits, when my wife and I and friends took a ferry across the Strait of Messina, fortunately, all was calm and we sailed straight across to Sicily. without incident.



God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Posted by John on 21 December 2017 | No responses

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day…

Although this venerated Christmas carol embodies the spirit of Victorian Christmases ever since it was sung to redeem Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” both the anonymous tune and words date back to the 16th-century.

As we sing it, notice that the archaic, medieval English word, “ye,” remains in lieu of the plural “you” in the opening line, but not in the second line, for some unknown reason. Perhaps, let’s imagine it’s somewhat appropriate since the first known English Christmas tree set up in 1800 at Windsor Castle by Queen Charlotte, the German wife of King George III, was a yew tree. Growing up in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, for her it was customary to decorate a single yew branch. Instead of the customary bough, however, the Queen erected an entire yew tree, covered it with baubles and fruit, and loaded it with presents to everyone’s delight.

Pre-dating those events, St. Boniface, an English missionary to Germany, is credited with the origin of the first Christmas tree—a fir tree adorned in tribute to the Christ child. Germans were also known to use box trees or yews instead of firs. Also, the idea to light a tree with candles began with Martin Luther in 1535. By 1605, decorated Christmas trees had become commonplace in Southern Germany.

A yew is an evergreen conifer, or cone tree, native to the UK and Europe, and mature ones can grow to nearly 60 feet. The bark is reddish-brown with purple tones, and peeling. The yew is probably the most long-lived tree in northern Europe, many of them hundreds of years old. A majestic yew that first took root more than 5,000 years ago, located in what is today a Welsh churchyard, is believed to be Europe’s oldest tree.

Continuing our grammatical “declension” of the second person pronoun, you’ll be interested to learn that Yule or Yuletide, was a pagan mid-winter festival observed by Germanic tribes that was replaced by Christians to recognize the birthday of Jesus Christ.

…and now you know the rest of the story.

A True Case of: “You Need to Have Your Head Examined”

Posted by John on 6 December 2017 | 1 response

The idiomatic phrase–“You need to have your head examined”–literally hit quite close to home today for yours truly.

I started the day as one of many patients in my dentist’s office for a semi-annual cleaning, and later enjoyed that fresh feeling of  apple-crunching, clean teeth. Next I made a trip to the barber shop where I had to hold my patience while waiting for my turn because I was in a hurry to head to my dermatologist’s office for an important procedure.

Happy to report that my experience as one of several patients this afternoon having Mohs surgery (mine on my scalp) was successful. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends staying ahead of the game by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

Dr. Frederic Mohs, who invented the cancer treatment in 1938, held a patent on the technique, which today all U.S. dermatology residency training programs are required to provide exposure to.

Mohs’ unique, legally-protected type of operation, however, is not to be confused with the totally different term–“patent medicine”–which is a nonprescription medicinal preparation typically protected by a trademark and whose contents are incompletely disclosed.



Natural Similes and Metaphor-ests

Posted by John on 2 December 2017 | No responses

One of my favorite columnists I look forward to reading in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution is naturalist, Charles Seabrook, whose Saturday articles are published under the heading: “Wild Georgia.”

This week, Seabrook offers glimpses of the changing season from autumn to winter around the state by highlighting how “Shades of brown add interest to woods in winter.” Seabrook’s key simile in today’s article describes “as many shades of brown…as there are green hues in spring.”

simile is a type of comparison made with the use of the words like or as. You might say a simile likens one object or noun with another, e.g., his similes and metaphors flow smoothly as honey for the reader.

metaphor states that one thing is another thing and, typically, it is a stronger, yet subtler, more creative literary device. It equates two things not because they actually are the same, but for the sake of comparison or symbolism. For example, Seabrook personifies bark as being able to “invite” nature lovers, and winter light being able to “bathe” the wood.

Among this week’s other metaphors, Seabrook compares various tree barks to alligator hides and military camouflage. He closes his column, noting, “Also beckoning closer inspection in winter are mosses, lichens and fungi on tree bark and on the forest floor.”

As a writer, you might say he’s a natural.


A Breath of Fresh Air

Posted by John on 27 November 2017 | No responses

One of my favorite pastimes (other than traveling, playing golf, reading, writing, volunteering at church, gardening, boxing, doing the daily Jumble word game, listening to jazz and opera, playing the piano, having dinner with friends, and partnering through life with my lovely wife), is completing the Wall Street Journal Saturday Crossword Puzzle (sans Google).

Last Saturday one of the catchy clues that caught my eye was a six-letter word for: “Self-Proclaimed ‘Curiously Strong Mint.'” Did you know that the answer A-L-T-O-I-D mints are actually part of the Wrigley family of brands, which include two other world famous mints,” albeit in another confectionary category: Doublemint and Spearmint chewing gum flavors?

The English inventor of Altoids, Smith Kendon, developed an exceptionally strong lozenge way back in 1780 and originally marketed it to relieve intestinal discomfort, as well as a remedy for bad breath. The London-based company did not enter the U.S. market, however, until 1918.

Today the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company does not mince words when they proclaim that “Altoids Peppermint lozenges are the best-selling mints in the U.S.”


P.S. The used decorative tins that once contained Altoids have even become popular collectibles on eBay. Who knows: collectors of these empty tins some day could find that their unique collections may be worth as much as all of the U.S. government mints combined.


Deer (sic) Santa:

Posted by John on 14 November 2017 | No responses

Back in the previous millennium, comedian Tim Allen starred in the first of three movies entitled “The Santa Clause.” Fast forward to the 21st century–specifically today–when a local metro newspaper reporter spelled the popular version of St. Nicholas’ appellation with the letter “e” at the end of jolly old elf’s surname. Guess what that reporter’s stocking is getting for Christmas.

By definition, a clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb and can convey a complete idea, as in a sentence or part thereof. Apparently, our hometown “Jimmy Olsen” used to pay more attention reviewing weekend movie reviews than during grammar and spelling classes.

As far as Santa Claus‘ transportation is concerned, did you know that reindeer have deeply cloven hooves so their feet can spread on snow or soft ground? Cloven hooves are split into two toes or digits called claws, and are named for their relative location on the foot: one the outer, or lateral claw; the other, the inner, or medial claw.

So, as the song goes:

You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town…


R.i.P., Y.A.T.

Posted by John on 16 October 2017 | No responses

Recently, former New York Giant football quarterback legend, Y.A. Tittle, passed away. In his memory I am re-editing an old blog post from 2013.


Many moons ago, the Tabs on Writing blogger (aka the Atlanta Freelance Writer) was the sports editor for his high school newspaper. Under his byline called–not coincidentally–Tabs on Sports, he had a unique opportunity to interview Y.A. Tittle, who, at the time, was the star quarterback for the New York Giants.

Since algebra was one of the courses being studied at the time, the headline for the article ran like this: “Y.A.T. + P.A.T.=7”. (Solution to this equation: a touchdown run or pass from Y.A. Tittle, plus the point after touchdown, kicked by George “Pat” Summerall, equals seven points in football terms. Note: Summerall got his nickname based upon his kicking specialty.)

In doing some research recently, I came across a blog that used Y(elberton) A(braham)’s surname as a homophonic pun, i.e., “Why a Tittle?” Have to confess I missed the connection at first.

Eventually, I realized the “point” of the pun, so to speak: a “tittle” is the dot that is placed over the letter “i” or “j” in the English language. The blogger, a marketing pro, was bemoaning the misuse of a lower case “i” in the spelling of words on signs and elsewhere that otherwise have all other letters in upper case. See, for example, the title of this blog post. It should read: R.I.P. instead of R.i.P. (caps versus lower case).

Perhaps this is all a bit “over the top” shall we say. Nonetheless, the expression has more meaning now when referring to crossing our “t’s” and dotting our “i’s” (and “j’s”) with tittles.

Just for the record, while “Y.A.” led the Giants to three straight NFL championship games (pre-Super Bowl era), unfortunately, he never was able to deliver a championship title for the Giants.

Forsooth! Surely You Jest!

Posted by John on 13 October 2017 | No responses

Though rarely used in everyday conversation or writing except in humorous or ironic contexts, Merriam-Webster tells us that forsooth is formed from the combination of the preposition for and the old English noun sooth meaning “truth” or “true.” Thus, taking that logically to the next step, a sooth-sayer is one who can accurately predict the future.

The root word “sooth” lives on today in the verb “soothe,” which technically means “to show, assert, or confirm the truth of something.”

That being said. however, a reporter in a article for the local Atlanta hometown newspaper recently misspelled the intended word to soothe as to sooth (sic) over feelings.

Quite possibly, the journalist may have been thinking of the word smooth (i.e., having a continuous even surface), which is spelled without an “e’ at the end of the word.*



*That is, except as a nutritious drink with fruit, juice, milk, or yogurt, which in that case is spelled: smoothie.



Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

Posted by John on 5 October 2017 | No responses

If you’ve noticed people taking animals into churches this week it’s because Wednesday, October 4th, was the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, who believed that nature itself was the mirror of God, calling creatures his “brothers” and “sisters”, even preaching to the birds. Thus, on Francis’ day, Christian churches bestow a blessing on pets and other four-legged or winged creatures since he is considered the patron saint of animals.

While many of us are familiar with this attribute of Francis, did you know that the founder of the Franciscans himself chose never to be ordained a priest, but remained a friar, or mendicant (beggar) of his religious order, combining monastic life and outside religious activity and devoting himself to a life of poverty. He is known to have worn a peasant-type coarse woolen tunic and tied it around himself with a knotted rope, similarly-dressed as the people of the countryside to whom he preached penance, brotherly love, and peace.

Quite different from the earlier days of his youth, spent as a high-spirited, wealthy young man, who, at one time, even joined the army of an Italian count; but an illness, an incident with a beggar, and a beatific vision converted him to turn his life around.

In 1223, it was St. Francis who created the tradition of a live nativity scene complete with animals, commonly referred to today as a Christmas creche.

His beautiful Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon includes a stanza to Brother Fire: “Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire, through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.” He wrote this poem after he suffered a rare illness that caused blindness, and forced him to endure a medical procedure that cauterized his face with a hot iron. Francis reported that Brother Fire had been so kind that he felt nothing at all.

On a side note, at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Cartersville, Georgia, the Knights of Columbus (as they do in parishes all across the country) prepare fish dinners on Fridays during Lent. The burning liturgical question there remains: what’s the name of the Franciscan fryer who cooks all their fish dinners?