Over a decade ago, Child brought Frindle by Andrew Clements home to read. It’s a story, at it’s core, about how language evolves. And I believe that the evolution of language is a good thing, no matter how I bristle about certain language atrocities that happen in the process.
I had to study Beowulf and Chaucer’s Canterbury tales in their Old and Middle English vertigo-inducing language. I studied Pilgrim’s Progress and All The Shakespeare. That kind of text is nice to visit, but I certainly don’t want to live there.
Sure, I can accept that language develops and some words become archaic and fall out of popular use. As a writer who relies on proper and consistent use of language during $dayjob, and bends the rules with aplomb in my off hours here with all y’all, I understand that certainly there are two camps – does the word appear in the venerated Oxford English Dictionary? And the opposite – do you understand what is trying to be conveyed? I believe that spaghettified is a genuine state of toddler cleanliness. But when my gentleman associate was in university and he used to make up words that were phonetically plausible, but really really not real (Justifiability = justification?). I still tease him about those language foibles 25 years later. And to punish me for being a word snob, he passed on the Making-up-words gene to our son. It’s hard to tell if either of them were punking me when they asked me to proofread their work before handing it in.
All that aside, I want more exposure to words more often.
There are a bunch of ways to make that happen – reading actual books, reading online on an e-reader on any number of devices, listening to audio books or podcasts. I felt, for part of this year, that my language skills were atrophying somewhat. I know part of that was the seizure recovery, when words just felt hard. My above-average vocabulary had shrunk like wool in hot water. I feel like that’s mostly recovered, but when I’m tired, I still feel the challenge of finding the correct word more acutely than I did before. What I really want is to fill my time with more soul-enriching things, and words fit nicely into that desire.
I know. I say this all the time. But the Great Paint of 2021 had me moving both my library and Child’s so I’ve been thinking again about this. More books, less technology (and in particular, social media). I know, I know, blogging is kinda dependent on tech. And $Dayjob is ALL about tech. But there are certainly ways for me to prune the ways and places where tech is not supporting my growth.
And inspiration always comes from the weirdest places, amirite?
Gil Grissom (Will Peterson) is rebooting CSI: Las Vegas. This is not the inspirational part, exactly. In the original CSI, Gil was sitting at a desk covered in bound journals.
Someone comes into his office and says “You know those are all available online, right?“
Gil responds, “Those are for people who lean forward. I like to lean back.” and he leans back in his desk chair with the volume against his chest.
Preach it, Gil Grissom!
Last night I was looking at the email(s) that a big-chain bookstore sends me every few days. I love wandering through book stores. Alas, wandering and touching all the books isn’t something I feel comfortable with yet, so these emails are my virtual wander.
It started with some good picks – Stanley Tucci and Dave Grohl have written autobiographies. Ohboyohboy! Must read those. A version of the Avengers movies set in Shakespearean plays – with Groot saying “‘Tis I!” Take my money! A Red Riding Hood redux? Heck, yeah. Marrow Thieves has a sequel? Yes please! Although that might be weird and/or anxious dream inducing again. But then I started noticing something else… Over half the books listed (I’m not exaggerating for affect, here) had a suffix that ruined even the pleasure of browsing the list: [Book title] : A novel. The Last Graduate: A novel. Cloud Cuckoo Land: A novel. Black Girls must Die Exhausted: A novel. Eight Perfect House: A novel. The Santa Suit: A novel. The Magician: A novel. No kiddin’ huh? And if it wasn’t a novel, it was [Book title]: A Thriller.
What is this unholy naming convention? If you have to tell someone that the pages full of sentences aren’t just a bucket’o’words, that gives me no faith in the quality of your work. And semantically, You know what it’s NOT, when every bloody book is called that? Novel! (ha! See what I did there?) And it’s a thriller, is it? That’s awfully presumptuous. Authors, I take umbrage. Trust your craft or hone it.
But the universe understands that she must not push the word snobs too far, so my inbox also provided a twitter digest including this: “Lewis Hamilton became the first Formula One driver to win 100 grands prix with a rain-assisted victory in Russia that sent the Mercedes driver back to the top of the championship on Sunday.” Grands prix. It makes me so joyful when I see the proper plurals of complicated words, because it’s so disappointingly often that they’re used incorrectly. Governors (and auditors and solicitors) general. Passersby (passerbys is terrible, but not as terrible as passerbyers – which I legitimately saw somewhere. What fresh hell is *that*?)
So yeah, I might have a complicated relationship with words. As, apparently do we all.
2 thoughts on “The joy and horror of words”
Mothers-in-law, etc. Examples abound!
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I love how languages have evolved, I grew up in Australia and when I’m speak Vietnamese in Vietnam the locals look at me like I’m from another planet. My Vietnamese vernacular is unfortunately 50 years too old. The whole thing to me feels like time travel. 🙂
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