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Monday, November 26, 2012

A catchy hook?

Ever wonder if that mass of metal attached to those heavy-duty trucks have a name or purpose? Well, they're a modern day interpretation of a railroad engine's cowcatcher. Cowcatcher is a term that is so outdated in today’s culture that there are few people left who have even the remotest idea of what it refers to.

Also known as the pilot or cattle catcher, a cowcatcher is the device mounted at the front of a locomotive, especially a steam locomotive, to deflect obstacles from the track that might otherwise derail the train. It’s usually a strong inclined frame, usually of wrought-iron bars, at the front of a locomotive designed for clearing the track of obstructions. The shape of the cowcatcher serves to lift any object on the track and push it to the side, out of the way of the locomotive behind it. Not sure if the modern version on trucks would do the same job.

The cowcatcher was invented in 1838 by a British engineer named Charles Babbage. Babbage was an English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer who also originated the concept of a programmable computer.

Interestingly enough, in researching the origin of this word, I came across a curious bit of information, especially for writers, regarding the usage of this word. In the craft of writing,  did you know the opening lines of books, written in such a way as to get the reader’s immediate attention, used to be called a cowcatcher? Nowadays, it’s referred to as the hook.

Following are some examples of effective cowcatchers (or hooks) I found on  http://www.wikihow.com.

“Some men walked straight out of a woman’s dreams. Some qualified as full-on nightmares.” - Obsidian Prey by Jayne Anne Krentz

"I'm sitting on a cold metal slab, and there's blood all over my shirt." - "Between Mom and Jo" by Julie Anne Peters

"Night lay heavily over the forest." - "Sunset" by Erin Hunter

But designing an effective 'cow catcher' is something any writer can learn to do. All it takes is a little creativity and a lot of determination—and a very strong desire to see your readers “herded” in the right direction.

Now...aren't you glad you took a moment to read my latest bit of nonsense?

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