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Archive for November, 2005


I attended this class put on by the Writers’ Institute at GA Perimeter College. I’ve read Betsy’s short story collection Bargains in the Real World and was struck by the haunting sadness of the stories and the way the characters seem just on the edge of collapse.

Anyway, she lectured mostly about the craft of writing, the creative process, most of the things I’ve heard before. She was soft spoken and very funny — she even knew Jordan Rosenfeld from her time at Bennington. To end the class she had us write a brief scene featuring dialogue only. Mine sucked, others were good.

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When I tell people about a story I’ve published or that I’m writing a novel, there are the usual questions: How long have you been writing? In which magazines have you been published? How much money do you earn for a story? Then there are the comments on the therapeutic benefits of writing, and what a wonderful hobby it must be. I’ve always taken issue with the last two comments, especially the latter. (A hobby? Writing is grueling, difficult, painful work! Sure it can be rewarding, but it’s tough! A mere hobby? Come on!)

Today’s word made me realize my writing truly is a hobby — at least for now. I try not to talk the novel to death, just write it and keep on writing it until it’s finished and hopefully someone will find it interesting enough to publish.

Hobby (Noun)

Avocation; an activity to which a great deal of time and attention are devoted for pleasure rather than remuneration.

Usage 1: The plural of “hobby” is “hobbies.” There is no evidence that today’s word is in any way related to “hobbled,” which would have resulted in “hobbly horse” at some point in its development. This did not occur.

Suggested usage: The basic concept associated with today’s word is devotion of energy for pleasure rather than reward: “Dobbin has made it his hobby to irritate Robin since her quince upside-down cake was judged better than his peanut butter mousse torte at the county fair bake-out.” Today, however, the word applies to a rich and diverse range of activities, “Collecting garbage can lids of the rich and famous started out as a hobby for Carlton but now he has opened a museum that is providing him with a tidy income.”

Etymology: From “hobby-horse” in the sense of “favorite horse,” the one you spend most of your time on. “Hobby” itself comes from Middle English hobi, hobyn “small horse, hobby horse.” It probably comes from the nickname for Hobin, Hobby, a variant of Robin, Robbie. “Hobin” was a favorite name for horses in the 16th and 17th centuries as “Dobbin” was in the 18th and 19th. By the way, “Dobbin” probably comes from the same source. From “hobby-horse” in the sense of “favorite horse,” the one you spend most of your time on. “Hobby” itself comes from Middle English hobi, hobyn “small horse, hobby horse.” It probably comes from the nickname for Hobin, Hobby, a variant of Robin, Robbie. “Hobin” was a favorite name for horses in the 16th and 17th centuries as “Dobbin” was in the 18th and 19th. By the way, “Dobbin” probably comes from the same source.

(South African Christo Lombaard’s hobby horse seems to be collecting intriguing words; we are most grateful for his sharing them with us.)

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