Category Archives: Reference Materials

This category includes materials excerpted from a variety of reference books, as well as other material used as reference sources such as learning supports and style sheets.

Term of Art: Social System

“The concept of a system appears throughout the social and natural sciences and has generated a body of literature of its own (‘general systems theory’). A system is any pattern of relationships between elements, and is regarded as having emergent properties of its own, over an above the properties of its elements. The system is seen as possessing an inherent tendency towards equilibrium and the analysis of systems is the analysis of mechanisms which maintain equilibrium, both internally and externally, in relation to other systems.

The functionalism of Talcott Parsons offers the fullest employment of systems theory in sociology (see especially The Social System, 1951). In Parsonsonian terms, social system can refer to a stable relationship between two actors, to societies as a whole, to systems of societies, or indeed any level between these. All are analyzed principally in terms of their so-called cybernetic aspects; that is, as systems of information exchange and control, where equilibrium is maintained through symbolic exchanges with other systems across boundaries, In economic systems, for example, the exchange is not usually direct but mediated by money. Power is the medium of exchange in political systems.

More recently Anthony Giddens, (Central Problems in Social Theory, 1979) has criticized this conception of the social system on the grounds that systems do not possess emergent properties over and above the social actors who comprise them, but are rather produced and reproduced by structured and routine social practices. The systematic properties of social systems thus stem from the nature of social action rather than the system itself.”

Excerpted from: Matthews, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Satan’s 13 Peers of Hell

“Beelzebub * Moloch * Chemos * Peor * Baalem * Ashtoreth/Astarte * Thammuz/Adonis * Dagon * Rimmon * Osiris * Isis * Horus * Belial

In Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan, having been expelled from Heaven, falls ‘nine times the space that measures day and night’ into Hell’s cavern. In this ‘dismal situation waste and wild, a dungeon horrible on all sides round as one great furnace flamed’ he rears up from a pool of liquid fire to offer words of comfort to the fallen cherubs. One by one, Milton identifies and to a certain extent creates the thirteen chief captains of Hell, from his own selective reading of the mythology of the ancient Near East, who follow ‘their great Emperor’s call’ in order to stand beside him. These Peers of Hell are a bad lot–‘besmeared with blood,’ fomentors of ‘lustful orgies’ and ‘wanton passions of the sacred porch’–and summon myriad other fallen angels to arms with a shout that ‘frighted the reign of Chaos and old Night.'”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

Daniel Willingham on Vocabulary and Reading Comprehension

“Research shows that depth of vocabulary matters to reading comprehension. Children identified as having difficulty in reading comprehension (but who can decode well) do not have the depth of word knowledge that typical readers do. When asked to provide a word definition, they provide fewer attributes. When asked to produce examples of categories (“name as many flowers as you can) they produce fewer. They have a harder time describing the meaning of figurative language, like the expression ‘a pat on the back.’ They are slower and more error-prone in judging if two words are synonyms, although they have no problem making a rhyming judgement.”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.


“Neologism (noun): A newly coined word or phrase, or novel expression in increasing usage (as contrasted with a nonce word); a new meaning for an old word. Adjective: neological, neologistic; noun: neology, neologist; verb: neologize.

‘He landed in lexicography footnotes first, with an appendix to his M.A. thesis—listing neologisms committed by English romantic poets.’” Israel Shenker, Harmless Drudges.

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.

Walter Wallace Decodes the Rockingham Meeting House Cemetery

While I realize that it’s not most people’s idea of fun, I like to spend time in cemeteries. I appreciate funerary art. I enjoy the solemnity and quiet of cemeteries. I benefit from the perspective cemeteries provide. And, since the advent of the smartphone, I enjoy using cemeteries as a primary source in historical research. One can learn a lot about the demographics of a town by its deceased citizens.

So, I am pleased to see that my pal Walter Wallace, in Springfield, Vermont, has worked with a local cable access production company to offer this video on Puritan symbolism on gravestones at the Rockingham Meeting House, in Rockingham Vermont, where he is a docent. Incidentally, this meeting house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008.

Great work, Walter!

Term of Art: Particle

“A word that does not change its form through inflection and does not fit easily into the established system of the parts of speech. Among individual words commonly so classed are the negative particle not (and its contraction n’t), the infinitive particle to (to goto run), the imperative particles dodon’t (Do tell meDon’t tell me) and letlet’s (Let me see now; Let’s go). There is also a set of adverbial and prepositional particles that combine with verbs to form phrasal verbs (out in look outup in turn up) and prepositional verbs (at in get at; for in care for). The term pragmatic particle is sometimes used for words that play a role in maintaining discourse and are also known as fillers and discourse markers: ohahwell, yesnoactuallyanyway.

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

The Algonquin Wits: George S. Kaufman

[Here are two quotes that demonstrate that George S. Kaufman could laugh at himself in the face of personal failure. The play Someone in the House, a Google search suggests, has been forgotten by history.]

“During the influenza epidemic of 1918, just after his first play had opened in New York, Kaufman reportedly went around advising people to ‘avoid crowds–see Someone in the House.'”

“After the flop of his first play, Someone in the House, Kaufman remarked, ‘there wasn’t.'”

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.