Tabs on Writing

The Business of Business Writing by John Tabellione, Principal at

Let’s Cut to the Chase About Chastain Park

Posted by John on 6 March 2018 | No responses

The local newspaper must have hired a new out-of-towner to write content for photo captions: today’s edition featured a picture of strollers at the landmark Chasten (sic) Park. In addition to being a super venue for outdoor concerts, the 268-acre Chastain Park is the largest city green space in Atlanta, featuring jogging paths, playgrounds, tennis courts, a golf course, a swimming pool, and a horse park.

We’re not here to chasten (admonish/rebuke/punish/chide) the writer for his or her misspelling (methinks SpellCheck overrode the typist), but to point out the etymology and definitions of a few similar sounding, similarly spelled words:


These three related verbs are derived from the Latin verb, castigare, meaning “to punish” severely and physically. Today these words portend a verbal dressing-down.

Chaste, on the other hand, does not have any connection to chasten etymologically-speaking. Rather, its meaning of “celibate” or “modest” comes from the Latin word for “pure.”

Meanwhile, back at Chastain Park, who knows, those strollers photographed above may have, during the course of their walk, spotted a squirrel or two being chased by a frisky dog.

A Unique Sister Act: No One Saw This Coming…Not a One

Posted by John on 21 February 2018 | 1 response

Loyola University of Chicago’s men’s basketball team has what used to be a well-kept secret weapon that their competitors lacked and never saw coming. It wasn’t a coach, or a scout, or a player, or a pray-er. It was none (Merriam Dictionary: “not one”) of the above. Rather–she–is all four wrapped into one: Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt.

This diminutive, 98-year old former women’s basketball player back in high school, is wheelchair-bound. Nonetheless, that doesn’t deter this nun from attending her team’s home games as team chaplain since 1994. She offers a pre-game blessing for the players’ safety and for their ability to play to their potential. Sister Jean not only provides the Loyola Ramblers with prayer and comfort — believe it or not — she also offers scouting reports on the opposition, as well, from prior game observations.

While this nun, a member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may not be totally responsible for putting points up on the scoreboard, just for the record, this year the Ramblers (22-5, 12-3) are in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference.

You might say, none of the other teams has a prayer of a chance against them.

Do the Math

Posted by John on 15 February 2018 | No responses

I recently picked up a copy of an interesting biography about a brilliant Italian named Leonardo–no, not da Vinci–but the much lesser known, Leonardo of Pisa. You may know him also as Fibonacci. You know: Fibonacci.

In case you don’t, the book is entitled: Finding Fibonacci: the Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World.

His biographer, Keith Devlin, goes on a 10-year search to learn and explain the genius of Leonardo. While arithmetic originated in India, Fibonacci (c. 1175 – c. 1250)  was the first to introduce it to the Western world and to explain mathematical ideas at a level ordinary people could understand. Fibonacci was long forgotten after his death, yet modern finance can be traced back to him, which, in turn, helped to revive the West as the cradle of science, technology, and commerce.

The Pisan is best known for his integer sequence, called the Fibonacci sequence, and is characterized by the fact that every number after the first two is the sum of the two preceding ones:

Meanwhile, in another part of 13th century Italy, a fashion statement was being made with the introduction of a Venetian gold coin called a zecchino being sewn onto clothes in great numbers as a decoration, and to denote wealth. This application also worked as a practical way to create a sort of portable bank account. To prevent theft, travelers would simply sew coins directly on their person and remove them as need be.

Today we know these zecchini (plural form) in English as: sequins.








Fore and Aft

Posted by John on 10 February 2018 | No responses

Recently, Mayor Judy Jordan Johnson of the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville opened the February City Council meeting with a State of the City Address built around the theme, “Lawrenceville Forward.”

That same week, my writer friend, “Arturo,” informed me that among his other writings, he had been asked to write a foreword (or preface) to a book about a championship basketball team (Olimpia Milano) for which he played in Italy many years ago. Theoretically, he could have also been asked by the author to write an afterword, or epilogue, to the book.

By the way, I learned afterward (also spelled afterwards), that “Arturo” played both as a center on the team, as well as a power forward.

Norwegian Airlines Flight Faces Head-winds

Posted by John on 31 January 2018 | No responses

As my friend and fellow writer, Arturo, often likes to say, ” I can’t help it. This stuff writes itself.” Or, simply put, truth is often stranger than fiction.

Our story begins with dozens of handymen from Oslo, Norway headed on a plum assignment to a trade show in Munich, Germany. They then plumb ran out of luck when their flight was forced to turn around because of plumbing issues with a toilet on board the aircraft.

Since the commode had to be repaired from the outside of the jet, not one of the 85 plumbers aboard was able to be a “Johnny-on-the-Spot” and fix the best seat on the plane.



Posted by John on 28 January 2018 | No responses

While perusing the obituary page recently, I noticed that a writer described (incorrectly) a person as being a devoted (sic) Catholic, meaning to imply that he was especially religious and pious.

When people are enthusiastically dedicated to any activity they devote their time, energy or money to such effort, cause or hobby. Therefore, being devoted  refers to their actions, not who they are. One such person is called a devotee or a votary.

If you want to talk about people who are actively involved with, a religious cause, remember to differentiate that their personal allegiance, strength and intensity of belief is defined as being devout.

And that’s the Gospel truth!

Gallivanting Cowboys

Posted by John on 24 January 2018 | No responses

Last evening, while watching “Fixer-Upper,” the popular house renovation reality show on HGTV starring Chip and Joanna Gaines, I noticed the owner of the house in Crawford, Texas that was being updated, sported a 10-gallon cowboy hat.

Coincidentally, in this morning’s newspaper, in my attempt to solve one of the words in the Jumble puzzle, I was able to unscramble the letters G-O-L-N-A-L to spell “gallon,” which led me to do some research on the word.

The origin, as you might suspect, turns out to be Spanish, but, not as you might expect, has nothing to do with the word, galleon. According to Merriam-Webster a galleon is “a heavy square-rigged sailing ship of the 15th to early 18th centuries used for war or commerce especially by the Spanish.” In fact, the Spanish likely borrowed from the Italian word galeone, meaning a galley, or a ship propelled solely or chiefly by oars.

Mexican cowboys often wore braided hatbands—called “galóns” in Spanish—on their sombreros. A “10 galón” sombrero had a large enough crown that could be encircled with 10 hatbands. One theory has it that American cowboys anglicized the word to “gallon” and called their style: “10-gallon hats.”

Another school of thought argues that the name “gallon” may come from the Spanish phrase “tan galán” —“very gallant” or “really handsome”—and that phrase helped to popularize the majestic image of a cowboy sitting tall in the saddle (think John Wayne) sporting his 10-gallon Stetson.

So, not only is the theory that a 10-gallon cowboy hat can hold 10 gallons of water all wet—even the largest cowboy hat could, conceivably, only hold a few quarts of water—carrying liquid in the crown of any cowboy hat probably would damage it beyond repair.

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.