My Word's

an occasional column by
Marylaine Block
March 23,2008


I've been writing steadily since the summer of 1995, when I applied to be the American correspondent for a British online magazine. The result was My Word's Worth, the column I wrote every week for six years, and on an occasional basis thereafter. I began by explaining the oddities of American life to the bemused Brits, and ended up explaining them to Americans. Between April, 1997 and November 2000, I wrote a similar weekly column for Fox News Online called Observing US.

Once I quit my job, I started writing a column called ExLibris, for librarians and other information junkies. I published it every week from 1999 to 2005, and on an occasional basis thereafter. From 1999 through March 2008, I also wrote books and articles for the library trade.

As you've probably noticed, I've been otherwise occupied for a while. I sold my home in Iowa and bought a new one in Greensboro, N.C., where I get to watch my grandson growing up and figuring out his world.

Or maybe I'm just slowing down. It's just possible that I may have managed to talk about almost everything I really cared about.

So, this is the end of My Word's Worth. But not the end of its archive, because I think I've brought some unusual perspectives over the years to topics that continue to be interesting and relevant. So I'd like to close out my career by pointing you to some of my very favorite pieces.

I've written a lot about men and women over the years. Some of my favorite pieces are What Does a Woman Want in a man, and Survey of Men 101, about what the men I interviewed want in women. There's also In Praise of Men, Advice for Desperate Men on how to buy gifts for women, the surprises in store if you Take a Good Look at little old ladies, and All Reasons Great and Small why I am a feminist.

I'm a born appreciater of people who do amazing things, like Dr. Seuss (Getting to Solla Sollew), Jim Henson (Oh, Do You Know the Muppet Man?), my mother (Every Other Inch a Lady), my son (Son Rise), and the remarkable teachers who change lives (Lighting Candles).

The odd ways the human mind works fascinate me, which I've talked about in Tar Baby. As a professional information-monger, I've talked about how what we know may be true and still wrong (Moving Target).

Since language is what we think with, I've talked about how what we choose to name an issue determines how we think about it (The Game of the Name), and how our thinking is shaped by metaphors (It's Like This), the words we have available to think with (Words To Be Wise), and the grammar that makes meaning from them (Grammar Matters).

As a reader, librarian, and profligate bookbuyer, of course I've written about books. My favorite pieces include the 2-part piece on what books my readers and I would choose to commit to memory if we lived in the world of Fahrenheit 451 (Becoming a Book), and why so many novels send children to deal with ultimate evil (Meddling with Wizards).

I've written a lot about the things that make us human: what it would be like to truly see the world through someone else's eyes (You Be Me and I'll Be You), the taming of shy humans (Wild Kingdom), the universal human need for art (We Do Need Cave Paintings), and the unique human knowledge lost forever on September 11, 2001 (Not Replaceable).

Conversation may well be the single most compelling human need, which I've written about in Talk To Me, Dixieland Thought, and Here Comes a Regular.

And I've written about children: why we should stop overprotecting them (Night Vision), what a stifling cocooned world we've made for them (The Boredom Machine), and why parents need to understand that children are supposed to be different from us (Not Clones).

I've unleashed my silly side in columns about e-mail games (And Now for Something Completely Inconsequential), Practical Cat Names, growing up on word games (Word Child), and voice-recognition software that's not quite up to the job (Down, Computer, Down I Say twotwo). There's also some light verse about cats (The Cat's Christmas), the perils of Spell-Check (On Finally Achieving Perfect Copy)), and punny imaginary places (Merry Christmas)

And finally, I've passed on my philosophy of life, such as it is, in We Hold These (Small) Truths To Be Self-Evident (To Us), and The Eight Commandments I try to live by.

I can't do a better exit line than Douglas Adams, "So long, and thanks for all the fish." I'll just say I've had a lot of fun along the way, and I thank everyone who's stopped by to read the little messages in bottles I've been tossing out into cyberspace for the past 12 years.

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NOTE: My thinking is always a work in progress. You could mentally insert all my columns in between these two sentences: "This is something I've been thinking about," and "Does this make any sense to you?" I welcome your thoughts. Please send your comments about these columns to: marylaine at Since I've written a lot of these, some of them many years ago, help me out by telling me which column you're referring to.

I'll write columns here whenever I really want to share an idea with you and can find time to write them . If you want to be notified when a new one is up, send me an e-mail and include "My Word's Worth" in the subject line.